Singer, Dancer, WW2 French Resistance Spy, and Civil Rights activist. Josephine Baker was much more than just a banana skirt.
Josephine Baker, born on June 3, 1906 was an iconic figure in the world of entertainment. She was a French-American singer, dancer, and actress, known for her remarkable talent, charisma, and trailblazing spirit. Josephine Baker was also known for her open bisexuality, which was an important aspect of her personal life.
Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri, United States, and grew up in a challenging environment. She faced poverty and racial discrimination, but her determination and passion for performance pushed her towards a brighter future. At the age of 13, she started performing on stage, and by the 1920s, she had gained significant recognition for her unique style and energy.
In 1925, Josephine Baker achieved worldwide fame when she traveled to Paris (Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences in the United States ) and became an instant sensation at the Folies Bergère with her captivating performances. Her provocative dances, featuring her famous “banana skirt” and sensual movements, revolutionized the entertainment industry and broke numerous social barriers.
Baker was the most successful American entertainer working in France. Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw”. The author spent hours talking with her in Paris bars. Picasso drew paintings depicting her alluring beauty. Jean Cocteau became friendly with her and helped vault her to international stardom.
Aside from her success on stage, Josephine Baker was also active in the French Resistance during World War II. She served as a spy, smuggling secret messages hidden in her sheet music and using her celebrity status to gather information for the Allies. Her bravery and contributions earned her several honors, including the Croix de Guerre and the Medal of Resistance.
Josephine Baker’s personal life was marked by her bisexuality. She had both romantic and sexual relationships with both men and women, which was considered taboo at the time. She was known for her affairs with prominent figures, including Frida Kahlo, Colette, and many others. Her openness about her bisexuality challenged norms and helped pave the way for acceptance and understanding of different sexualities.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Josephine Baker became increasingly involved in the civil rights movement. She actively fought against racism and segregation, refusing to perform for segregated audiences in the United States. Her contributions to the movement were recognized, and she was the only woman to speak at the March on Washington in 1963.
I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad. And when I get mad, you know that I open my big mouth. And then look out, ’cause when Josephine opens her mouth, they hear it all over the world.josephine baker – march on washington – 1963
Later in her life, Josephine Baker adopted twelve children from different ethnic backgrounds, forming what she called her “Rainbow Tribe.” Her dedication to promoting racial harmony and acceptance through her family exemplified her commitment to social justice and equality.
Coretta Scott King approached Baker in the Netherlands to ask if she would take her husband’s place as leader of the Civil Rights Movement. After many days of thinking it over, Baker declined, saying her children were “too young to lose their mother”.
Josephine Baker continued to perform and advocate for civil rights until her death on April 12, 1975, at the age of 68. She received a full Catholic funeral at L’Église de la Madeleine, attracting more than 20,000 mourners.[The only American-born woman to receive full French military honors at her funeral, Baker’s funeral was the occasion of a huge procession. After a family service at Saint-Charles Church in Monte Carlo. Josephine Baker was interred at Monaco’s Cimetière de Monaco.
Her legacy as a bisexual trailblazer, entertainer, and activist live on, and she is remembered as an LGBT icon of the 20th century.
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