Sunday, March 26, 2017

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker: member of the French Resistance, spy during WWII, artist's muse, Civil Rights Activist, Entertainer, Dancer, Singer and mother of the 'Rainbow Tribe'. 

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 Baker

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.

Getty image

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

American entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1936)
often performed onstage in Paris
nightclubs with pet cheetah Chiquita.
Chiquita wore a diamond collar.
Sometimes, during a performance,
Chiquita would decide to jump off the stage
and  into the orchestra pit, causing quite a ruckus.
 ca. 1931. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

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

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.

Links for Josephine Baker:

No comments:

Post a Comment

thank you for visiting my blog and for taking the time to comment ~ it is always a gift to get feedback!! so thx and peace ~