sensual, comic and beautiful, Josephine Baker wowed Europe
in the 1920s with her wild dancing and barely-there costumes.
She earned the nicknames "The Black Pearl," "Black
Venus" and "Creole Goddess." So admired in
Europe, she was bestowed with gifts of jewelry and cars. She
fielded over 1500 marriage proposals and once had a dejected
suitor kill himself at her feet. For over fifty years, Josephine's
high energy performances made her an International favorite,
but never experienced a true acceptance due to racial barriers
in the United States.
was born Freda Josephine Carson in St. Louis, Missouri, on
June 3, 1906 to Carrie McDonald and Eddie Carson. Her mother,
who took in laundry as a means to support herself, was abandoned
by Eddie, a vaudeville drummer, shortly after Freda's birth.
Her mother eventually married a man by the name of Arthur
Martin and the family grew to include three more children.
up cleaning houses and babysitting the children of wealthy
white families, Freda began to show signs at an early age
of her desire to entertain when she would sing and dance on
the streets of St. Louis for nickels and dimes. When she was
thirteen years old, she had a brief marriage to a young man,
Willie Welles, whom she met while waiting tables. She then
toured with The Jones Family Band and The Dixie Steppers performing
various vaudeville routines. Marrying American Willie Baker
in 1921, she adopted his last name and her new stage name,
Josephine. She joined the all-black Broadway musical Shuffle
Along in 1922. Feeling the pressure of racial discrimination,
Freda left for Paris at age 17 to perform in La Revue Nègre.
It would become a turning point in her young career. Immediately,
she became an overnight success with her dance number, Danse
Sauvage, that she performed with Joe Alex. Clad in only a
feather skirt, her uninhibited dance movements sent the crowd
into a frenzy. She became on of the most photographed women
in the world.
career, thriving in integrated Paris, afforded her luxuries
of fancy cars, jewelry and exotic pets. When La Revue Nègre
closed, Josephine moved on to the Follies-Bergère Theater,
where she performed her famous banana dance, cementing her
celebrity status. In 1936 she came to the U.S. to star in
the Ziegfield Follies, but American audiences were not ready
yet to see a sophisticated and powerful black woman and reviewers
were very cruel. She left New York heartbroken that things
had not changed in more than a decade from when she left.
The following year, she renounced her American citizenship
and became a French citizen, marrying Frenchman Jean Lion.
fights Hitler, racism and poor health...