On June 3, 1906, a baby girl was born to Eddie Carson and Carrie McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri. They named their daughter “Freda Josephine McDonald”, but in her career, she went by her middle name instead of her first name. As a child, Josephine attended school with her three siblings. But she quit when she reached twelve years of age to find her place on the stage. By the time she was thirteen, Josephine was singing and dancing professionally in vaudeville.
While Josephine was just a teenager at age nineteen, she traveled to Paris. It was there at the ThÃ?Â©Ã?Â¢tre des Champs-Ã?Â?lysÃ?Â©es that she was suddenly catapulted into fame. She performed burlesque dances in costumes that were almost non-existent. And the audiences loved it!
Josephine went on to tour the rest of Europe, and then she went back and opened her act at the Folies BergÃ?Â¨re in France. It was there that she was performing her “Banana Dance.” Her costume was nothing but a skimpy skirt that was made up of bananas. On top of that, Josephine often performed her erotic dances with her pet leopard named, “Chiquita.” “Chiquita” had a difficult time keeping her attention on the act, so she could often be found roaming around in the orchestra pit. The frenzy of the musicians with the leopard in the pit only added to the frenzy!
Because she was an Afro-American performer, Josephine found more popularity in France than she did in the United States. So, she decided to remain in Paris where she continued to enjoy even more of a celebrity status.
Not only could she dance, but she could also sing. In the year 1930, a highlight in Josephine’s made career was made by recording six songs for Columbia records. Her biggest song hit was, “J’ai deux amours” which she recorded in 1931.
She followed that by becoming a successful Afro-American actress. Two of her biggest movies were Zouzou in 1934, and Princesse Tamtam in 1935. By this time, she was the most celebrated American performer in France. She was nicknamed, “The Black Venus.”
Josephine visited the United States in 1936 where she starred in a Ziegfeld Follies production. Unfortunately, she still was unable to become popular in the states, and the show was a bomb.
She returned to France and later became an official citizen in 1937.
Because of her celebrity status, Josephine found it easy to travel around. Therefore, she was able to work with the French Red Cross during the second World War. In 1940, she became involved with the Underground resistance. From that experience, Josephine was awarded the Croix de Guerre, and received a Medal of the Resistance in 1946. She was also awarded the Legion d’Honneur in 1961.
Even though Josephine was now a French citizen, she rallied for the Civil Rights Movement that took place in the United States during the 1950’s.
In her personal life, Josephine was first married in 1919. This union resulted in a divorce. Another five marriages would end in the same disastrous way. She gave birth to a baby in 1941, but the child died at birth. Josephine couldn’t have any more children naturally, so she adopted twelve orphans. The children were from a variety of racial backgrounds, and Josephine affectionately dubbed them her, “Rainbow Tribe.” She and her tribe lived in a towering castle for a time before her career slumped and she found herself financially strapped for cash.
Finally, in the year of 1975, Josephine Baker starred in a French show that celebrated her fiftieth year in show business. Her career seemed to be on the upswing, but she would never benefit financially from it. Because, one week later, at the age of 69, she died peacefully in her sleep, and the remainder of the show’s schedule was canceled.
Josephine Baker was laid to rest at the CimetiÃ?Â¨re de Monaco. Because of her accomplishments during the war, she was buried with French military honors.