On this week’s Black History month special, we’ll be talking about the late dancer, actress, singer, and activist Josephine Baker. Josephine Baker was a famous entertainer that was prominent during the 1920s and 1930s. She was known for her infamous Banana dance and for her participation in the French resistance during the second world war. Josephine Baker helped break down many doors for many black entertainers, both here in America, as well as overseas.
Josephine Baker was born as Freda Josephine McDonald, on June 3, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mother was a washerwoman and her father was a Vaudeville drummer, who abandoned them when Josephine was young. Growing up in poverty had forced Josephine to drop out of school and to take many odd jobs. By the time she was 15, Josephine was married twice, she decided to take the last name of her second husband, Will Baker, and escape to New York to fulfill her dream of becoming a dancer on Broadway.
Four successful years later, Josephine Baker was offered a chance to dance in Paris, France in an off broadway play called “Le Revue Nègre.” The review would end up changing her life forever. Josephine ended up becoming an overnight sensation in France after performing a risqué finale of her dancing solely in a girdle made of feathers. Baker then began performing at the famous Folies Bergère, where she presented her famous Banana dance. The banana dance consisted of Josephine Baker dancing in a skirt made out of a string of bananas in an African theme setting.
Josephine became synonymous with this production, performing it across several countries in Europe. During the second World War, Baker became apart of the French resistance. The performer would pass on secrets she would hear while entertaining the enemy and transport confidential information that she wrote with invisible ink on music sheets. When the war ended, Baker returned home to the U.S, where she became vocal about segregation and discrimination. Baker went on to become one of the few women to speak at the 1963 March on Washington. There she talked about her life as a black woman both in the states and abroad.
She continued to fight racial injustices throughout 70s and even adopted multiple kids from several different countries, calling them her “rainbow tribe.” Unfortunately on April 12, 1975, Baker died from a cerebral hemorrhage in her adopted home of Paris, France. The performer’s funeral was attended by 20,000 people and was honored by the French military, making her the first American woman to be buried with the honors.