World History

Josephine Baker | Biography, Children, Movies, Banana Skirt & Facts

Where did Josephine Baker grow up?

Josephine Baker was born Frida Josephine McDonald on June 3, 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father was a variety drummer named Eddie Carson, and she split with Josephine and her mother, Carrie McDonald, at a young age.

After the death of her father, Josephine had a difficult childhood. Her mother worked hard as a laundress, but her family often starved. When Josephine was eight years old, she had to go to work to get food. She worked as a maid and waitress in the homes of wealthy people.

Josephine Baker Overview

Occupation Dancer, Singer, Actor
Nationality American (renounced) French (1937–1975)
Born June 3, 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri
Died April 12, 1975 in Paris, France
Nicknames Black Pearl, Jazz Cleopatra, Bronze Venus
Best known for Being a famous performer in Paris, a World War II spy, and a civil rights activist

Biography of Josephine Baker:

Becoming a Dancer

Josephine loved to dance, and she would sometimes dance on street corners for money. She soon found her job as a dancer on her local variety show. She was a talented dancer, actress and singer. She landed more and more prominent roles and was cast in the 1923 Broadway musical Shuffle Long.

Moving to France

In 1925 Josephine decided to embark on her new adventure. She moved to Paris, France to appear in a show called ‘La Revue Negre’. The show was a success and Josephine decided to make Paris her new home. Her most famous performance is a dance performed during a show called “La Folie du Jour”. During the dance, she wore only a skirt made of bananas.

Being Famous

Over the next decade, Josephine grew into one of Europe’s biggest stars. She sang on popular records, danced on shows, and acted in movies. Josephine also became rich. She bought a large house in the south of France called Chateau de Mirande. She then adopted 12 children from different countries and called them the “Rainbow Tribe”.

World War II Spy

During World War II, Josephine was recruited as a spy for the French Resistance. Being her famous celebrity, she was invited to important parties and she was allowed to travel all over Europe without anyone noticing.

She conveyed secret messages about the Germans, such as military positions and airfields, written in invisible ink on her sheet music. After the war, she was awarded the French Croix de Guerre (War Cross) and the Rosette de la Resistance (French Resistance Order).

Return to the United States

Josephine first attempted to return to the United States in 1936 to appear in the Ziegfeld Follies. Unfortunately she returned to France with a bad review. But in the 1950s Josephine returned again. She was very well received this time as well, and she had many visitors.

Civil Rights Activist

When Baker returned to the United States, several clubs wanted her to perform in front of segregated audiences (where there were only whites or blacks). Josephine strongly objected. She refused to perform in front of separate audiences. She also spoke out against clubs and hotels that refused service to black people.

In 1963 Josephine participated in the March on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. In her uniform, she spoke about the French resistance in front of 250,000 people. In her speech, she spoke of the freedoms she gained in France and how she hoped the same freedoms would soon apply in the United States.

Death of Josephine Baker

In 1975, Josephine starred in a show that looked back on her fifty years as an artist in Paris. The show sold out and was attended by big stars like Mick Jagger, Diana Ross and Sophia Loren. A few days after the show began, on April 12, 1975, Josephine died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Interesting Facts about Josephine Baker

She had various exotic pets, including a leopard named Chiquita and a chimpanzee named Ethel.

Her adopted children of her Josephine entertained and sang songs to those who paid to visit her home.

The NAACP has declared May 20th to be Josephine Baker Day.

She was asked by Coretta Scott King to become the new leader of the civil rights movement in the United States after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Ms. Baker didn’t want to leave her children, so she refused.

She was close friends with the famous actress Grace Kelly.