Tumpy, they called her. She was a roly-poly child, round like Humpty-Dumpty.
But Josephine Baker spent her whole life tearing down walls , not falling off ‘em.
Born in St. Louis, the cradle of ragtime, the hotbed or race riots.
She danced on street corners to make a dime.
She flap-a-tap-tapped her way to vaudeville
Dixie stepping and shuffling along all the way to Broadway.
The gangly girl with the googly-eyed peepers
Was the cat’s pajamas of the Chocolate Dandies chorus line.
Hopped a ship for grand ol’ Paris
Au revoir land of the free, home of segregation…
… bonjour Revue Negre- overnight jazz sensation!
Sultry. Sensual. Exotic. Electric.
They called her Jazz Cleopatra, Bronze Venus, Black Pearl.
With a swivel of her hip
She turned the heads of a worldwide audience.
Who is that Mahogany dream?
Fans stormed the doors to hear the canary croon at Chez Josephine.
Black is beautiful?
Black is beautiful!
Black is BEAUTIFUL.
At the height of the French Resistance she used fame to her favor,
Crossing enemy borders with codes written in invisible ink. A world-class spy!
The coffee-colored Cinderella waltzed her way to a grand chateau with her Rainbow Tribe,
Babes from every corner of the world.
A rose-colored vision of racial harmony.
J’ai deux amour , she crooned draped in ermine and silk. “I love my country and Paris.”
But the red white and blue wasn’t ready for this boundry-breaking global sensation.
Panther. Bearcat. Tigress.
Never one to shy away from a fight,
She stomped Jim Crow
Marched alongside Dr. King stormed the barricades of racial segregation.
Baker the blackbird flew higher and higher.
Til she scorched herself in the sun.
With magnificent plummage the pioneering phoenix rose again.
A woman ahead of her time. A legend. Mon cher Josephine.
Josephine Baker was born with the name Freda Josephine Carson in St. Louis, on July 3, 1906. At the tender age of 13 she joined a black vaudeville production and moved to New York to escape hardship of discrimination and poverty and seek fame. When still a teenager she moved to Paris, France to perform in an all black review. Her fame took off overnight as she became an international dancing, singing, performing sensation. She will forever be a symbol of the jazz age and the Harlem Renaissance. Although she was never well received in the US, she constantly fought racial injustice, refusing to perorm at segregated venues. She was the only woman to speak at the famous 1963 march on Washington alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. During her lifetime she engaged in espionage activity for France in WWII, and was a highly honored and decorated military civilian. Offstage Josephine’s life was just as dramatic in her constant search for an adoring audience and opulent luxury. She was known for her Rainbow Tribe of adopted children, a poweful, if not flawed, display of racial harmony. Baker was truly the first African-American celebrity and an ambassador for human equality.