Birth Date and Place:
Josephine Baker was born in the ghetto of St. Louis, Missouri on June 3rd 1906. When she was delivered, the doctor almost dropped her on the floor, but caught her just before she hit.
|Josephine surrounded by her Rainbow Tribe|
Her father was a Spaniard, name unknown. Josephine lived with her mother Carrie, stepfather Arthur, brother Richard, sisters Margaret and Willie May, and her grandma who was half Native American. Josephine married Jo Bouillon in 1947 on her birthday. She adopted twelve children from all over the world she called her Rainbow Tribe. Their names are Jean-Claude, Jari, Noel, Luis, Aiko, Marianne, Moise, Janot, Stellina, Brahim, Koffi, and Mara.
Childhood and School Life:
She altered between a lot of different households, some good some bad. The one that was good for her gave her her own room and even schooled her and showed her how to read. The couple was called the Masons, and they were white and had no children. Mrs. Mason loved Josephine like her own, but unfortunately Mr. Mason was a creep and Mrs. Mason had no choice but to make Josephine leave for her own safety. Josephine returned back to her home in the ghetto.
Despite all that, she stilled had her spirit to perform. She would put on shows in the basement for her siblings and the neighborhood kids. She would dance and everybody loved it. One day she and Margaret attended a show and Josephine got the nerve to actually go back stage and ask for a job. Of course, all it was was costume help and running errands, but it was one step closer to her dream. One day one of the chorus girls fell ill and Josephine, having memorized the routine, filled in. that was the start to her fame, really. Everyone loved her, but because she looked ridiculous on stage. She made everyone laugh and it was great.
Ever since she was a little girl, Josephine had a passion for dancing and singing. Her whole life was dedicated to performing for audiences. Josephine went from little basement shows to giant and extravagant productions across the world, making her name known everywhere.
She also was actively involved in the American Civil Rights movement. When she traveled to New York she demanded a mixed audience otherwise she wasn’t performing. She forced blacks and whites to come together if they really wanted to watch. Unlike France, America still wasn’t on board with desegregating things. That’s a lot of the reason why Josephine loved Paris because the people treated her equal.
Josephine was what you could call brave. She stood up for herself and traveled to different countries performing shows or performing acts of duty while in the service, despite how some countries were against civil rights. When she was young her bravery had to shine through even then. She had to jump on board moving trains and collect coal for her family all the while there was a watchman with a rifle that could spot her and shoot her right then and there. She would grab the coal and toss it down to her siblings who would be running along side the train ready to catch them.
She also was always ready to try new and crazy things. When it came to performances, Josephine was eager to do anything the director through at her. One performance, the director had a vision of having Josephine suspended high above the stage floor in a glass ball. She was kind of hesitant, but she crawled into the ball anyways. As she was being lifted high into the air, the ball started to turn over and the lid to the top fell down. Josephine, with no harness to protect her, had to try to stay far back and not move. In her eyes, it was forever until they lifted the ball very slowly to the rafters where the director was waiting with arms reached out to grab her. Opening night of that show came and Josephine crawled back into the ball and nailed it. The show had been a success.
Through hard work and determination, Josephine made her way to the big leagues when she hit Paris. She got onto a show called Revue Negre managed by Monsur Rolf and directed by Andre Daven. After quickly becoming a success, she was offered to join the Folies-Bergere by Paul Derval. She then began to get involved in films, the first one being La Sirene des Tropiques.
More and more shows were being made just for Josephine, and the owner of the Casino de Paris, Henri Varna, made a show called Paris qui Revue. Opening night for the show was September 26th, 1930, and it was a success. She continued to do performances there, which made her even more of an idol to people. She took over France, and pretty much all of Europe. She became a sensation in South America as well, and soon her name was known globally.
|Josephine in military uniform|
The true test came to her, though, when she was told she was performing in America (as mentioned before). The US still hadn’t embraced the mixing of blacks and whites, and that concerned Josephine. Yet, regardless of the fact that she didn’t want to return to her homeland, she knew that her small step towards change would eventually help later on with the Civil Rights Movement. They told Josephine when she arrived that her show would consist of all black people. She then told them that she refuses to go on with the show unless there was a mixed audience, and that’s exactly what she got.
She wanted more from life than just fame on stage. She wanted a purpose, or something a tad more meaningful. Josephine joined the French Red Cross during World War two, working as a spy whose cover was going around performing songs. She would keep notes tucked away in her clothes of the things she heard and gave them to France, and fo that she received the French Military honor: the Croix de Guerre.
Reasons for Fame:
Josephine’s outgoing personality and talent for singing and dancing is what made her a novelty across the world. Her popularity didn’t actually take hold, though, until the 1920’s. She starred in three films that were a hit in Europe. Her most famous song during her life was called J’ai Deux Amours, in which hundreds of painters and authors were inspired by.
|Josephine Baker with military honor badges|
Later Life and Old Age:
After all her work in the war and helping with the French Resistance, Josephine went back doing performances for Allied soldiers in North Africa. Fidel Castro invited her to do a show in 1966, which ended up being the most attended show she had ever done. Josephine had gotten a standing ovation when she opened at the Carnegie Hall in 1973 also.
Four days before her death, Josephine performed at the Bobino in Paris to celebrate her 50 years of show business. Josephine was peacefully reading the reviews she had received wen she fell asleep. April 12th, 1975 at age 68, it was reported that she had went into a coma after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. Her funeral was held in Paris, just where she would have wanted.