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Women Who Rock: Josephine Baker

March is National Women’s History Month, and we’re celebrating by sharing a lady we admire each weekday. Since today is the last day of this awesome month, we’ll be going out with a bank, spotlight FIVE women who rock.

JOSEPHINE BAKER (1906-1975)

Josephine Baker, born on June 3, 1906, was the quintessential “wild child” of the 1920s. She was born Freda Josephine McDonald in East St. Louis, Ill., to Carrie McDonald. Although it’s not known exactly who Josephine’s father was, it’s believed that he was McDonald’s white employer at the time. At least that’s what Josephine believed.

Baker’s childhood was not what anyone would call easy. At either, she was abused by a lady she was working for because she used too much soap in the laundry. By the time she was 12, she had dropped out of school and had become one of the “street children” that slept in cardboard boxes and ate from garbage cans. She earned money by dancing on street corners.

She got her start in Vaudeville at 15 in the chorus line. There was no turning back. Josephine Baker broke the color barrier in theater and movies. She made her name in the Follies Bergères, and was recipient of the Croix de Guerre for her war efforts on behalf of her adopted country of France.

She was the epitome of elegance, walking down the street with her cheetah. Josephine was the muse for such artists as Langston Hughes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Christian Dior and Pablo Picasso.

Perhaps most importantly, Baker also was a mother. Adopting 12 children of various races and raising them as a family, she proved that family had no color.

In April 1975 she performed a sold out concert in Paris. She died peacefully in her sleep two days later, surrounded by the glowing newspaper reviews of that performance.

Further Reading/Listening:

  • Josephine Baker: J’ai Deux Amours, Josephine Baker
  • The Black Pearl, Josephine Baker
  • Josephine Baker: The Hungry Heart by Jean-Claude Baker
  • Josephine Baker in Art and Life: The Icon And The Image by Bennetta Jules-Rosette
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