About Josephine BakerJosephine Baker sashayed onto a Paris stage during the 1920s with acomic, yet sensual appeal that took Europe by storm. Famous forbarely-there dresses and no-holds-barred dance routines, her exoticbeauty generated nicknames "Black Venus," "Black Pearl" and "CreoleGoddess." Admirers bestowed a plethora of gifts, including diamondsand cars, and she received approximately 1,500 marriage proposals. Shemaintained energetic performances and a celebrity status for 50 yearsuntil her death in 1975. Unfortunately, racism prevented her talentsfrom being wholly accepted in the United States until 1973.Humble beginnings She was born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, on June3, 1906 to washerwoman Carrie McDonald and vaudeville drummerEddie Carson . Josephine grew up cleaning houses and babysitting forwealthy white families who reminded her "be sure not to kiss the baby."She got a job waitressing at The Old Chauffeurs Club when she was 13years old. While waiting tables she met and had a brief marriage toWillie Wells. While it was unusual for a woman during her era,Josephine never depended on a man for financial support. . She was married and divorced three more times, toAmerican Willie Baker in 1921 (whose last name she chose to keep), Frenchman Jean Lion in 1937 (from whomshe attained French citizenship) and French orchestra leader Jo Bouillon in 1947 who helped to raise her 12adopted children. They divorced, and she married in 1973 American artist Robert Brady in Acapulco, Mexico.
About Josephine BakerJosephine toured the United States with The Jones Family Band and TheDixie Steppers in 1919, performing various comical skits. When thetroupes split, she tried to advance as a chorus girl for The Dixie Steppersin Sissle and Blakes production Shuffle Along. She was rejected becauseshe was "too skinny and too dark." Undeterred, she learned the choruslines routines while working as a dresser. Thus, Josephine was theobvious replacement when a dancer left. Onstage she rolled her eyes andpurposely acted clumsy. The audience loved her comedic touch, andJosephine was a box office draw for the rest of the shows run. Parisian sensationShe enjoyed moderate success at The Plantation Club in New York afterShuffle Along. However, when Josephine traveled to Paris for a newventure, La Revue Nègre, it proved to be a turning point in her career.Josephine and dance partner Joe Alex captivated the audience with theDanse Sauvage. Everything about the routine was new and exotic, andJosephine, boldly dressed in nothing but a feather skirt, worked theaudience into frenzy with her uninhibited movements. She was anovernight sensation. Josephines immense popularity afforded her a comfortable salary. Sheloved animals, and at one time she owned a leopard (Chiquita), achimpanzee (Ethel), a pig (Albert), a snake (Kiki), a goat, a parrot,parakeets, fish, three cats and seven dogs.
Her career thrived in the integrated Parissociety; Josephine was the mostphotographed woman in the world,and by 1927 she earned more than anyentertainer in Europe.In the late 1930’s she moved her familyfrom St. Louis to her estate” LesMilandes” in France.A 1936 return to the United States to starin the Ziegfield Follies proved disastrous,despite the fact that she was a majorcelebrity in Europe. American audiencesrejected the idea of a blackwoman with so much sophistication andpower, newspaper reviews were equallycruel (The New York Times called her a"Negro wench"), and Josephine returnedto Europe heartbroken.
Righting wrongs Josephine served France during World War II in several ways.She performed for the troops, and was an honorablecorrespondent for the French Resistance (undercover workincluded smuggling secret messages written on her musicsheets) and a sub-lieutenant in the Womens Auxiliary AirForce. She was later awarded the Medal of the Resistance withRosette and named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by theFrench government for hard work and dedication. Josephine visited the United States during the 50s and 60swith renewed vigor to fight racism. When New Yorkspopular Stork Club refused her service, she engaged a head-on media battle with pro-segregation columnist WalterWinchell. The National Association for the Advancement ofColored People (NAACP) named May 20 Josephine Baker Dayin honor of her efforts.
Sad farewells Josephine agreed to perform at New Yorks Carnegie Hallthat same year. Due to previous experience, she wasnervous about how the audience and critics would receiveher. This time, however, cultural and racial growth wasevident. Josephine received a standing ovation before theconcert even began. The enthusiastic welcome was sotouching that she wept onstage. On April 8, 1975 Josephine premiered at the BobinoTheater in Paris, the 68-year-old Josephine perform amedley of routines from her 50 year career. Days later,however, Josephine slipped into a coma. She died from acerebral hemorrhage at 5 a.m. on April 12, 1975 More than 20,000 people crowded the streets of Paris towatch the funeral procession on its way to the Church ofthe Madeleine. The French government honored her with a21-gun salute, making Josephine Baker the first Americanwoman buried in France with military honors. Hergravesite is in the Cimetiére de Monaco, Monaco.Josephine Baker has continued to intrigue and inspirepeople throughout the world. In 1991, HBO released TheJosephine Baker Story. The film garnered five EmmyAwards. The film also won one of the three Golden Globesthe film was nominated for that season.
Josephine BakerPresented and Produced by Andrea Books ofAndrea’s Creative Designs. Andrea said“I was inspired by Josephine’s strengthcourage and determination that broke racialbarriers and open doors for Black womenaround the world”.“All though many people have heard ofJosephine Baker, few really know her story,which has been the inspiration for many ofmy designs and is one of the reasons I enteredthe design field”, Andrea says. Andrea ispresently studying Fashion and Jewelrydesigns at HCC and is also employedas a Theatrical Costumer for the EnsembleTheatre. As a Breast Cancer survivorJosephine help her endure struggles withhope and was the inspiration behind thisproject and says “ she is one of my hero’s andI applaud her career strength, courage andmany talents”.