All my life, I have maintained that the people of the world
can learn to live together in peace
if they are not brought up in prejudice.
Josephine Bake is an amazing woman, so much more than the dancer who wowed Paris in the 20's and preformed in a banana skirt in Paris, which is the image that many get when they hear her name.
Josephine Baker was famous and adored in Paris during the 20's where she 'charleston'ed her way into the hearts of France, but that is just a part of her life story. Born into a poor neighborhood of St. Louis, she started working at 8 years old to help support her mother and her family. She was in and out of schooling, learning more on the street.
When Josephine was 13 years old age married William Wells, which made Josephine his financial responsibility, not her mother's. But that marriage didn't even last a year. Josephine taught herself to sing and dance as a way to earn money and soon moved to New York to pursue a career in entertainment. She made herself known not only with her dancing, but she also had a good comical delivery. From New York she moved her act to Paris where she became a star.
When World War II broke out, Josephine signed up to help her adopted country, France. First she worked with the Red Cross. But where she did significant work was as a member of the French Resistance. Because of her fame she traveled all around Europe and Northern Africa to entertain and she was even allowed into enemy territories where she would gather information undetected and then report back to the Allies. She also would delivered secret messages which she would hide within her piles of sheet music. After the war was over, France awarded Baker both the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honour with the rosette of the Resistance, two of France’s highest military honors.
With the war behind her she turned her attentions to racism, especially in her native land, the USA. She was appalled that when she was in the US, she was made to enter hotels through the back doors and wasn't even allowed to stay in other hotels because of her skin color. This was especially upsetting since she was welcomed into most any establishment, everywhere else in the world.
She started to protest by not preforming at segregated venues and continued to fight racism until her death. She even stood along side Martin Luther King, Jr in 1963 and spoke during the March on Washington.
Not only did Josephine Baker speak out against racism, but she wanted to demonstrate to the world that all races and all types of people could live together, given the chance. So, beginning in 1950, she started to adopt children from around the world. She ended up adopting 12 and she called her family the 'Rainbow Tribe'.
There are so many facets to this woman's life that I highly recommend you follow the links below so that you can meet the woman beyond the banana skirt. VF
Josephine Baker (June 3, 1906 – April 12, 1975) was born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri. Carrie McDonald and Eddie Carson, Josephine's parents, had a song-and-dance act, playing wherever they could get work. When Josephine was about a year old they began to carry her onstage occasionally during their finale. She was further exposed to show business at an early age because her childhood neighborhood was home to many vaudeville theaters that doubled as movie houses. These venues included the Jazzland, Booker T. Washington, and Comet Theatres. (wikipedia)
In 1925, at the peak of France’s obsession with American jazz and all things exotic, Baker traveled to Paris to perform in La Revue Nègre at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. She made an immediate impression on French audiences when, with dance partner Joe Alex, she performed the Danse Sauvage, in which she wore only a feather skirt.www.biography.com
Legend of XX century Josephine Baker – the black pearl of “Roaring Twenties” – era, so vividly represented in the novel by Scott Fitzgerald “The Great Gatsby”. French-American dancer, singer and actress, Josephine Baker made a brilliant career, and was the star of the Parisian cabaret. Noteworthy, the audience for the first time saw Charleston in her performance. Josephine, called Black Venus, visited poet Baudelaire in his dreams. And according to Ernest Hemingway, she was the most amazing woman he ever knew. Indeed, Josephine inspired sculptors, painters, poets and architects. Interestingly, Adolf Loos dedicated to her “House of Josephine Baker”, Alexander Calder – his wire sculptures, Gertrude Stein wrote a poem in prose, and Paul Colin was the author of many of her portraits, lithographs and posters. Meanwhile, Josephine claimed that Picasso drew her portraits many times (work not preserved). But in the famous series of Matisse “The Creole Dancer” and “Jazz” influence and spirit of Josephine is easily recognizable.
|Matisse, The Creole Dancer, 1950|
Comparing Josephine Baker to a beautiful Egyptian queen, artist Pablo Picassodubbed her “the Nefertiti of Now.” She posed for him in all her glory: “tall, coffee skin, ebony eyes, legs of paradise, a smile to end all smiles.”
When World War II rocked her adopted France, Baker didn't simply move to a more peaceful country. Instead, she stuck around and did her part for the war effort. Since she had initially publicly supported Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, the Axis powers mistakenly thought she was "one of them," and Baker took full advantage of this misconception.
In fact, her fame made her the perfect spy. When Baker would travel Europe while touring, she obviously had to carry large quantities of sheet music with her. What customs officials never realized, though, was that a lot of this music actually had secret messages written on it in invisible ink. Fawning immigration officials never thought to take too close a look at the diva's luggage, so she could sneak all sorts of things in and out of countries. On some occasions, Baker would smuggle secret photos of German military installations out of enemy territory by pinning them to her underwear.
This invaluable intelligence work eventually helped Baker rise to the rank of lieutenant in the Free French Air Force, and when the war was over she received both the Croix de Guerre (a first for an American woman) and the Medal of the Resistance in 1946.
During the 1950s, Baker frequently returned to the United States to lend her support to the Civil Rights Movement, participating in demonstrations and boycotting segregated clubs and concert venues. In 1963, Baker participated, alongside Martin Luther King Jr., in the March on Washington, and was among the many notable speakers that day. In honor of her efforts, the NAACP eventually named May 20th “Josephine Baker Day.”