June 3, 1906 - 1975
As a child growing up in the slums of St. Louis, living in cardboard
boxes and scavenging for food, Josephine Baker dreamed about the theatre.
She became a street performer at the age of 13 and by the age of 16
was in a travelling dancing troupe. It wasn't though until she arrived
in Paris at the age of 20 that she really began to succeed.
quickly developed her own style of overtly sexualized dance and singing,
which combined cooing vocals, irreverent acts, outrageous costumes,
and a magnetic stage presence. As a promotional act she once walked
down the Champs Elysees with a leopard on a leash. She starred in two
life, Baker also spoke out for what she believed in. She fought against
racism and earned both the Medal of Resistance and the Legion of Honor
for her work in the French Resistance during World War II. She was also
a key contributor to the Civil Rights movement in the United States
and she adopted many children of diverse ethnic origins.
She died in Paris
"Tall, coffee skin, ebony eyes, legs of paradise, a smile to end
all smiles," Picasso
dark body, a new model to the French, proved for the first time that
black was beautiful," Janet Flanner, New Yorker correspondent
- Medal of Resistance
- Legion of Honor
in the Women's Auxiliary of the French Air Force during World War