Josephine Baker died 12 April, 1975. She was a American-born French entertainer, French Resistance agent, and civil rights activist. Baker became wildly popular during the 1920s and her career symbolized the beauty and vitality of Black American's and Black culture.
She was born June 3, 1906, Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri. She mother was Carrie McDonald a washerwoman and her father was vaudeville drummer named Eddie Carson. Carson would abandoned Carrie and Josephine not long after her birth. At 16 she became a dancer, touring the United States with The Jones Family Band and The Dixie Steppers in 1919, performing various comical skits. When the troupes split, she tried to work as a chorus girl for The Dixie Steppers in Sissle and Blake’s production of Shuffle Along. She was initially rejected because she was “too skinny and too dark.” Undeterred, she learned the chorus line’s routines while working as a dresser. Thus, Josephine was the obvious replacement when a dancer left. The audience loved her comedic touch, and Josephine was a box office draw.
Her career thrived in the integrated Paris society; Josephine starred in La Folie du Jour at the Follies-Bergère Theater. Her jaw-dropping performance called Dance Sauvage, included a costume of 16 bananas strung into a skirt, This performance cemented her celebrity status. by 1927, she earned more than any entertainer in Europe and even starred in two movies in the 1930s, Zou-Zou and Princesse Tam-Tam, later she moved her family from St. Louis to her estate in Castelnaud-Fayrac, France.
A 1936 return to the United States to star in the Ziegfeld Follies proved disastrous, despite the fact that she was a major celebrity in Europe. American audiences rejected the idea of a black woman with so much sophistication and power, The New York Times called her a “Negro wench”, this led to Josephine returning to Europe.
During World War II served in several ways. She performed for the troops and was a correspondent for the French Resistance and a sub-lieutenant in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. She was later awarded the Medal of the Resistance and named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government.
Josephine visited the United States during the ‘50s and ‘60s with renewed vigor to fight racism. When New York’s popular Stork Club refused her service, She was so upset by this treatment that she wrote articles about the segregation in the United States, She also began traveling into the South to speak. The NAACP named May 20 Josephine Baker Day in honor of her efforts.
It was during this time that she began adopting children, forming a family she often referred to as her “The Rainbow Tribe.” Josephine wanted her to prove that “children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers.”
Josephine continued to travel to the United States, and in 1973 agreed to perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Due to previous experience, she was nervous about how the audience and critics would receive her. This time, however, cultural and racial growth was evident. Josephine received a standing ovation before the concert even began.
Later in 1975, Josephine premiered at the Bobino Theater in Paris. The then 68-year-old Josephine perform a medley of routines from her 50 year career. The reviews were among her best ever. however just a few days later, Josephine died from a cerebral hemorrhage April 12, 1975
Josephine Baker has continues to intrigue and inspire people throughout the world. In 2021, She became the first black woman to be buried in the Panthéon in Paris.