Josephine Baker was a French activist and entertainer born in the United States who rose to fame as a dancer at Paris’s Folies Bergere. Freda Josephine McDonald was born on June 3rd, 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri, to Carrie McDonald and a father who has never been identified, but according to Josephine’s estate, he was Eddie Carson, a vaudeville drummer. She spent her childhood in a poor neighborhood of St. Louis, where she received little formal education. Josephine began working as a domestic at the age of eight. She started working as a waitress at the age of 13 and earned money by dancing in the street. She married for the second time when she was 15 years old. Her first marriage lasted only a year. She moved to New York to participate in the Harlem Renaissance before landing a tour to Paris, where she would spend the rest of her life.
Josephine Baker debuted in La Revue Negre at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysees on October 2, 1925. She was 19.
Josephine Baker rose to prominence as a result of her exotic dancing style. She frequently appeared in scant clothing.
After her first tour, Josephine broke her contract and went on to star at the Folies Bergere in Paris.
Josephine Baker frequently performed the ‘Danse Sauvage’ while wearing a skirt made of artificial bananas.
Josephine had a pet cheetah who she frequently brought on stage with her. It was common for the cheetah named Chiquita to escape and bother the musicians, adding to the excitement of the show.
Josephine Baker was described by Ernest Hemingway as “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”
Siren of the Tropics, Zouzou, and Princess Tam Tam were all successful European films starring Josephine Baker. She appeared in Fausse Alerte in 1940.
For the rest of her career, Josephine retained the surname Baker from her second marriage.
Josephine made her Broadway debut in 1936, but the reviews were harsh, and she returned to Europe. She renounced her American citizenship and became a naturalized French citizen.
Josephine married Jean Lion, a French industrialist, in 1937.
During WWII, Jospehine worked as an honorable correspondent, relaying vital information she overheard at parties and other events to French military intelligence.
During the war, Josephine Baker went on tour to entertain troops. She was awarded the Rosette de la Resistance and the Croix de Guerre after the war. General Charles de Gaulle also elevated her to the rank of Chevalier de la Legion.
In 1949, Josephine Baker returned to the United States for a brief visit, performing in Miami and Harlem. She lost her work visa and had to leave the country due to racial issues she refused to back down from.
Josephine performed in Cuba at Fidel Castro’s invitation in Havana.
Josephine Baker received a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall in 1973.
Josephine refused to perform in segregated auditoriums.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Josephine Baker adopted several children of various ethnicities, referring to them as her Rainbow Tribe.
Josephine Baker died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1975, at the age of 68.