Woman Making History #54: Josephine Baker

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Josephine BakerHmm...this is an interesting choice. Kind of jumped out at me when I started looking for a picture...

Josephine Baker was an actress, dancer, singer, and burlesque performer. She was born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis in 1906. She was African-American/Native American, by way of her mother, and the identity of her father has been widely debated. The most popular opinion is that he was Eddie Carson, a vaudeville drummer.

As a child, Baker danced and sang in the streets for money, as well as doing laundry, waiting tables, cleaning houses, and babysitting. She started performing vaudeville at the age of 15, moving to New York during the Harlem Renaissance and performing in popular clubs and Broadway choruses. In 1925, she began performing in Paris, her act getting more and more successful as it became increasingly erotic and her costumes increasingly skimpy.

In the 1930s, Baker starred in several French films. She also had a recording hit, and posed for painters and sculptors including Picasso. Earnest Hemingway called her "the most sensational woman anyone ever saw." However, her French popularity did not translate to American fame, and her returns to America during this time disappointing. Baker married a Frenchman in 1937 and became a French citizen.

During World War II, Baker remained in France and participated in the Underground. During the U.S. Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s, Baker showed her support, even though she still lived in France. She refused to perform for segregated audiences on her trips to the U.S., and worked with the NAACP. In 1963, she was the only woman to speak at Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington.

Baker was married six times and adopted twelve multi-national children. She was also linked with Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

In 1975, at the age of 68, Baker died of a brain hemorrhage. She was the first American-born woman ever to receive French military honors at her funeral.

The Official Josephine Baker Website
PBS African American World


Josephine Baker is an American and International Legend. Though she remains to be a force to be reckoned with, Josephine has shown the world that she is entertainment at it's best. Her style, her outlandish behavior,the costumes, that voice and that energy. Miss Baker can presumably be the only entertainer that has graced the stages Internationally and be loved by many. One can maintain that Miss Baker lived a life like no other, spotlighting the world with her escapades and her dynamic bigger than life performances. Her spirit and contribution to the stage resonates in many of todays performers, such as Diana Ross who deemed to play her life story but was not given the opportunity when Lynn Whitfield played her perfectively in an HBO performance that garnered her many accolades. Beyonce who has mimicked her in many of her performances pays homage to one of the worlds greatest entertainers. Diana Ross went on to mimick her in a photo spread appearing ala Josephine Baker. Though Miss Baker has been able to entertain us all through music and dance, her life in the end was a tragic one. She died pennyless and homeless, but the world over she died a star and a fundamental part of our American History.

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