Cultural Percussionist

Josephine Baker Day

Josephine Baker (born Freda Josephine McDonald; 3 June 1906 – 12 April 1975) was an American-born French entertainer, activist, and French Resistance agent. Her career was centered primarily in Europe, mostly in her adopted France. During her early career she was renowned as a dancer, and was among the most celebrated performers to headline the revues of the Folies Bergère in Paris. Her performance in the revue Un Vent de Foliein 1927 caused a sensation in Paris. Her costume, consisting of only a girdle of bananas, became her most iconic image and a symbol of the Jazz Ageand the 1920s.

Baker was celebrated by artists and intellectuals of the era, who variously dubbed her the “Black Pearl”, the “Bronze Venus”, and the “Creole Goddess”. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, she renounced her U.S. citizenship and became a French national after her marriage to French industrialist Jean Lion in 1937. She raised her children in France. “I have two loves,” the artist once said, “my country and Paris.”

Baker was the first person of color to become a world-wide entertainer and to star in a major motion picture, the 1934 Marc Allégret film Zouzou.

She was also known for aiding the French Resistance during World War II. After the war, she was awarded the Croix de guerre by the French military, and was named a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by General Charles de Gaulle.

Baker was born as Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mother, Carrie, was adopted in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1886 by Richard and Elvira McDonald, both of whom were former slaves of African and Native American descent. Josephine Baker’s estate identifies vaudeville drummer Eddie Carson as her natural father despite evidence to the contrary.

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