Baker released her debut album, The Songstress, in 1983. Produced by the late Patrick Moten and Otis Smith, the album was released on a small label, Beverly Glen Records. The album went largely ignored by the record buying public but found minor success on the R&B chart. Baker herself co-wrote the album's opening track, "Angel".
In 1985, Baker signed a contract with Elektra Records, a division of Warner Music Group. She released her second album, Rapture, in 1986. Produced by her friend Michael J. Powell (from the Detroit soul band Chapter 8), Baker wrote several tracks for the album herself including "Been So Long" and "Watch Your Step", and co-wrote the single "Sweet Love" which became her first mainstream hit; it peaked at number eight on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, number two on the U.S. Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, and number thirteen in the United Kingdom. "Caught Up in the Rapture", "No One in the World", and "Same Ole Love" also became major R&B and adult contemporary chart hits during 1986 and 1987. Rapture ultimately went on to sell eight million copies worldwide and earned Baker two Grammy Awards in 1987: Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female for the album and Best Rhythm & Blues Song for "Sweet Love". Baker's world tour for her Rapture album, entitled A Night of Rapture, was filmed and released on home video (and DVD in 2007). In 1987, Baker collaborated with The Winans on the single "Ain't No Need to Worry", which led Baker to her third Grammy Award the following year, in the Best Soul Gospel Performance by a Duo or Group, Choir or Chorus category.
Baker's third album, Giving You the Best That I Got, was released in October 1988. She again worked with Powell, and the album became a critical and commercial success, reaching number one on the Billboard 200 chart and selling five million copies worldwide (including three million in the U.S. alone). It featured such hits as "Just Because" and the title track, which became Baker's biggest pop hit, reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100 while topping both the R&B and adult contemporary charts.
Baker returned to the studio in 1990 for her fourth album (her third for Elektra), entitled Compositions. Once again produced by Powell, this time Baker became more involved in the songwriting and production process and began to experiment with jazz influences. Baker wrote or co-wrote seven of the nine songs on the album, including the hits "Talk to Me", "Fairy Tales", "No One to Blame", and "Whatever It Takes" (written with Gerald Levert). The album was mostly cut "live", in that the rhythm section was playing as Baker sang. The album included musicians Greg Phillinganes, Nathan East, Paulinho da Costa, Vernon Fails, Ricky Lawson, and Stephen Ferrone.
Though the three singles from Compositions all failed to reach the top forty of the Billboard Hot 100 ("Talk to Me" came closest at number forty-four), they still became top twenty hits on the R&B chart and were also moderate adult contemporary hits. Compositions peaked at number five on the Billboard 200, number three on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, and number four on the Billboard Top Contemporary Jazz Albums, and was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. The album also earned Baker her seventh Grammy Award.
Following Compositions, Elektra Records secured the rights to Baker's debut album The Songstress from 1983, and re-released it with a new cover artwork in 1991.
After almost five years of touring, performing, and recording non-stop, Baker took a break, only entering the studio to record the jazz standard "Witchcraft" with Frank Sinatra for his 1993 Duets album.
Baker's fifth album, Rhythm of Love, was issued in September 1994. After ending her successful partnership with Powell, Baker produced most of the album herself along with many famous producers such as George Duke, Arif Mardin, Barry J. Eastmond, and Tommy LiPuma. Rhythm of Love was mainly recorded at Baker's home due to her pregnancy at the time, and she wrote five of the album's twelve songs. The album was another commercial success, peaking at number three on the Billboard 200 and number one on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, and eventually being certified double platinum by the RIAA. The first single, "Body and Soul", became Baker's first U.S. top forty hit in over five years. Baker won the award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for the single "I Apologize" at the 1996 Grammy Awards, her fifth Grammy Award in this category and her eighth overall.
In June 2002, Rhino Records released The Best of Anita Baker (known as Sweet Love: The Very Best of Anita Baker in the UK, with a slightly different track listing), a compilation of Baker's material from 1983–2002.
Two years later, in March 2004, Blue Note Records announced that they had signed Baker to an exclusive recording contract that would result in at least two albums. Bruce Lundvall, president and CEO of EMI Jazz & Classics, signed her after she approached him to record for Blue Note. At the same time Rhino Records released A Night of Rapture: Live, a compilation that contained nine live tracks and three multimedia videos recorded in the late 1980s.
In September 2004, a decade after her last studio album, Baker released a new album, entitled My Everything. Co-produced by Barry J. Eastmond and Baker herself, she wrote or co-wrote nine of this album's ten tracks, including a duet with Babyface, "Like You Used to Do". Though she had been out of the limelight for some considerable time, the album was a success and debuted at number four on the Billboard 200 and number one on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. The album was certified gold by the RIAA, denoting sales in excess of 500,000 units in the U.S.
In October 2005, Baker released her first Christmas album, Christmas Fantasy. Again produced by Baker and Eastmond, the album mixed traditional Christmas carols ("God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen"), standards ("I'll Be Home for Christmas"), re-imagined classics ("Frosty's Rag"), Broadway show tunes ("My Favorite Things"), and three new songs by Baker and Eastmond ("Moonlight Sleighride", "Family of Man", and "Christmas Fantasy"). She received a Grammy Award nomination in 2007 for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for the song "Christmas Time Is Here".
In 2007, Baker appeared on Dave Koz's album At the Movies. She sang "Somewhere" from the broadway musical, West Side Story.
Baker embarked on a concert tour in 2008, entitled An Evening with Anita Baker. Her performance at DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkston, Michigan, on July 12, 2008, was recorded and Baker has announced plans to release a new DVD and/or CD live album in early 2009.
On September 19, 2008 BusyBoy Productions filmed her entire An Evening with Anita Baker concert at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel in Prior Lake, Minnesota, for Baker's up-and-coming DVD and B-roll footage for promotional purposes.