Legendary Entertainer And Activist, Josephine Baker, Was Born
Singer, dancer and activist, Josephine Baker, was born on June 3, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri. Baker became one of the world’s biggest entertainers and she also devoted much of her life to combating racism.
Freda Josephine McDonald was born to Carrie McDonald, a washerwoman who had dreams of becoming a music-hall dancer, and Eddie Carson, a vaudeville drummer. Her father left shortly after she was born so while growing up she would clean houses and babysit for wealthy white people to help support her family. However, she ran away from home and worked in various jobs to survive.
By 1919, Baker was touring the United States with the Jones Family Band and the Dixie Steppers performing in comedic skits. During this time she also married Willie Baker, whose name she kept for the rest of her life (despite their divorce years later). Baker continued gaining popularity after landing a role in the musical Shuffle Along and she relocated to New York City.
Her newfound success in the United States paved the way for her to travel to Europe for performances. She made a lasting impression on French audiences due to her distinct dancing style and unique stage outfits. After performing in a skirt made of bananas, Baker became popular with audiences in Paris and went on to be one of the most popular and highest-paid performers in Europe.
Baker was even able to use her skills and talents to aid French military officials during World War II. She worked with the Red Cross and entertained troops in Africa and the Middle East. She was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor, which are two of France’s highest military honors. However, after years of living and performing in Europe, Baker returned to the United States where she was forced to confront issues of segregation and discrimination. She used her fame and platform to fight racism and inequality.
In 1963, she was one of the few women allowed to speak at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. She detailed her life as a black woman in the United States and abroad during her speech and was amongst many other notable speakers including Martin Luther King Jr.
Josephine Baker continued fighting for civil rights and performing until the time of her death. Throughout her career, she adopted more than 10 children from various countries and called her family “the rainbow tribe” in an effort to show that cultural harmony could exist. Baker died in her sleep on April 12, 1975.