So, I’ve decided that every Friday, I’m going to blog about a fabulous woman who I think is basically brilliant.
Although I’m not old enough to have ever seen anything of Josephine Baker’s work, except a few grainy minutes of film footage on YouTube, I find her endlessly fascinating. I also think she had one of the most radiant smiles ever to be photographed!
Josephine Baker was a lot of firsts- the first African American woman to star in a major film, the first African American performer to successfully integrate a mixed audience at her performances in America and the first American-born woman to win France’s Croix de Guerre for he role in the Resistance Movement of her adopted homeland.
Everywhere you go in Paris, where Baker lived for much of her adult life, her image looks at you from souvenirs, postcards and guidebooks. She renounced her US citizenship in 1937, after living and performing in Paris since 1925. She was most famous for performing the Danse Banane (Banana Dance) at the Foiles Bergere- her perfomances were considered racy, especially as she was wearing very little! Within a few years, Baker found herself being cast as a muse for artists and writers as diverse as Christian Dior, Picasso and Hemingway.
Baker lived a remarkable life- she adopted twelve children of different nationalities and dubbed them her ‘Rainbow Family’. She was heavily involved in the French Resistance in WWII as a spy, using her fame as a cover; she would often be invited to parties with high-ranking officials from the Nazi regime, who would then chat to her. She would pass on anything useful to the Resistance movement.
Despite living in France, she was also heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement in America and attended rallies with Martin Luther King Jr. After his assassination, she was reportedly offered the role of head of the movement, which she declined.
It’s easy to see why Paris is so proud of her!