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Josephine Baker

Born into poverty in St. Louis, dancer and singer Josephine Baker progressed from vaudeville to New York theater to the Parisian cabaret scene and became the toast of Europe before the age of 21. Though her later career wasn't quite able to handle such an early peak, Baker spent much of her life working tirelessly against prejudice, during World War II in Europe and the civil rights era in America. She's still one of the most famous expatriates in American history, perfectly epitomizing the hedonistic abandon of the Jazz Age in Paris.

Born Freda Josephine McDonald on June 3, 1906, Baker spent a hardscrabble childhood in the slums of St. Louis. After a successful audition at a local vaudeville theater, she left home at the age of 13, waitressing most of the time and working on the stage whenever she could get there. By 1920, she was married and divorced and married again -- the second time to Willie Baker, from whom she took the name she used on stage. Baker finally caught her big break one year later while dancing in the chorus for Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake's all-black revue Shuffle Along. A frenetic dancer and relentless on-stage clown, she quickly attracted notice and was tapped for a bigger part in another Sissle/Blake production, 1924's Chocolate Dandies. The show made her a star in New York and she became big in Harlem as well with performances at The Cotton Club and The Plantation Club, among others. In 1925, she moved to Paris with the American production La Revue Nègre. Baker's exotic dancing, uninhibited sexuality, and negligible attire -- which included a skirt of feathers -- suited the Continent much more than America, and she became an overnight sensation. Soon, she'd opened her own club (Chez Josephine) and starred in her first movie, the naturally exotic 1927 film La Sirene des Tropiques.

During the early '30s, Josephine Baker made her first studio recordings, though her extroverted on-stage personality froze slightly with an audience of engineers. She starred in two more films, Zou Zou and Princess Tam-Tam, before returning to America in 1936 to star in Ziegfeld's Follies with Bob Hope and Fanny Brice. The act floundered, however, as Baker was subjected to a double dose of discrimination; cultural conservatives railed against the show's promiscuity, while many hotels and restaurants refused entrance to the star of the show. When Brice fell ill, temporarily halting the revue, Baker broke her contract and fled to Paris. There she became a naturalized French citizen after marrying the sugar magnate Jean Lion, though his status as a French Jew exposed the couple to additional discrimination when the Nazis invaded two years later.

Perhaps more eager than most to prevent the oppressive Nazi regime sweeping Europe, Baker joined the French Resistance at an early date and worked throughout World War II to help the Allies. Besides acting as a funnel to get important documents out of France several times, she worked as a sub-lieutenant in the French Air Force's Women's Auxiliary, volunteered for the Red Cross to assist Belgian refugees streaming into France, and undoubtedly boosted troop morale by performing across Northern Africa. After the war, Baker earned several commendations (including the Medal of Resistance and the Cross of the Legion of Honor) and married yet again, to a bandleader named Jo Bouillon. Her return to active entertainment was a bit of a struggle, though, and she worked the cabaret circuit in Paris for several years before performing in Cuba and returning to America yet again. During the early '50s, Baker's fight to spread the gospel of civil rights made headlines when she performed to integrated audiences at a nightclub in Miami and canceled an Atlanta performance after being refused admission to a hotel. She also drew attention making waves in the notoriously segregated entertainment mecca of Las Vegas before mounting a worldwide farewell tour during the early '50s.

Though she was back on-stage by 1959, Josephine Baker spent much of the late '50s and early '60s raising her adopted children, an ethnically diverse clan of a dozen children she named "the rainbow tribe." (In fact, her continual returns to performance during the era were in part a response to the financial burdens of raising so many children.) She participated in the 1963 civil rights march on Washington and gave a series of four concerts at Carnegie Hall to raise funds for the cause. After suffering a heart attack in 1964, however, her performance career practically ended, except for a brief comeback just before her death from a stroke in 1975. ~ John Bush
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Anglais

1. I'm Feelin' Like A Million

2. Afraid To Dream

3. The Loveliness Of You

4. A Message From The Man In The Moon

5. Suppose!

6. My Fate Is In Your Hands

7. I'm Confessin'

8. Love Is A Dreamer

9. You're Driving Me Crazy

10. Brazil

11. C'est Si Facile De Vous Aimer (Easy To Love)

12. Vous Faites Partie De Moi (I've Got You Under My Skin)

13. C'est Un Nid Charmant (There's A Small Hotel)

x

Track List: Chanson

1. J'ai Deux Amours

2. Le Petite Tonkinoise

3. Dis-Moi Josephine?

4. Sans Amour

5. Si J'etais Blanche

6. Voulez Vous de la Canne a Sucre?

7. Madiana

8. Les Mots D'amour

9. Ram-Pam-Pam

10. De Temps en Temps

11. C'est Lui

12. La Conga Blicoti

13. Haiti

x

Track List: J'ai Deux Amours

1. J'ai Deux Amours

2. La Petite Tonkinoise

3. Suppose

4. Sans Amour

5. Love Is A Dreamer

6. Ram-Pam-Pam

7. Si J'etais Blanche

8. Confessin' (That I Love You)

9. You're Driving Me Crazy What Did I Do

10. My Fate Is In Your Hands

11. Haïti

12. Nuit D'Alger

13. Doudou

14. Vous Faites Partie De Moi (I've Got You Under My Skin)

x

Track List: The Best Of Josephine Baker Vol 2

1. Tout N'est Qu'un Chant D'Amour

2. Haiti

3. C'Est Ca Le Vrai Bonheur

4. Sur Deux Notes

5. Besame Mucho

6. Love Is A Dreamer

7. You're The Greatest Love

8. Voulez-Vous De La Canne À Sucre?

9. Dis-Moi Joséphine ?

10. C'est Un Nid Charmant (There's A Small Hotel)

11. Ram-Pam-Pam

12. Serenade Celeste

13. Pretty Little Baby

14. De Temps En Temps

15. C'est Lui (Pour Moi Il Y A Un Homme Dans Paris)

16. Brazil

17. You're Driving Me Crazy

18. La Conga Blicoti

19. J'ai Deux Amours

20. C'est Si Facile De Vous Aimer (Easy To Love)

x

Track List: The Best Of Josephine Baker Vol. 1

1. Suppose!

2. Afraid To Dream

3. Sans Amour

4. Madiana

5. Peg De Mon Coeur

6. Pecadora

7. La Petite Tonkinoise

8. Boneca De Pixe

9. Dans Mon Village

10. I'm Confessin'

11. Santa Chiara

12. My Fate Is In Your Hands

13. I'm Feelin' Like A Million

14. Partir Sur Un Bateau Tout Blanc

15. Doudou

16. Les Mots D'amour

17. Nuit D'Alger

18. Vous Faites Partie De Moi (I've Got You Under My Skin)

19. A Message From The Man In The Moon

20. Mon Coeur Est Un Oiseau Des Iles

x

Track List: Immortal Josephine Baker

1. Revoir Paris

2. Y'a Pas Trois Moyens

3. Chiquita Madame

4. Te Voyo Benn

5. Paris, Paris

6. Minuit

7. Bahiana

8. Princesse Sans Amour

9. Olele Olela

10. Romance Aux ´Etoiles (A Noche Con La Luna)

11. La Petite Tonkinoise

12. Mon Coeur Est Un Oiseau Des Iles

13. Ram-Pam-Pam

14. Si J'étais Blanche

15. Haïti

16. Comme Une Banque (I'm Feelin' Like A Million)

17. Sur Deux Notes

18. C'est Lui

19. Nuit D'Alger

20. Bonsoir, My Love

21. Madiana

22. J'ai Deux Amours

Comments

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Elle est la raison pour laquelle j'ai appris le Français. Et incroyable talent rare. Translation: She is the reason why I learned French. Amazing and rare talent.
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HA LOVE ROARING SINGING AND LOOKS GOOD ALRIGHT LOVE
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Goddess
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HA BABE SUCH A BEAUTIFUL ENTERTAINER LOVE GOD BLESS
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HA GOOD LOOKING MUSIC IS GREAT LOVE
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Josephine!
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Beautiful & captivating! ! !
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A great human being taking care of orphans.
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PLEASE GET A BIOGRAPHY FOR JOSEPHINE BAKER!!! She did some AMAZING THINGS IN HER LIFE!!!
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alfonsoindal l a s
I have been a fan of Josephine Baker for many years; since I was a teenager. Her beauty, talent, style and guts were amazing or the era; but above all I love her strenght both on and off stage! Long live the queen!
Report as inappropriate
ms.jenbelle
JOSEPHINE WAS BEYONCE`, LONG BEFORE BEYONCE.
Report as inappropriate
i sawe her perfom at the Comcast Center in Norton Ma. Very underrated
Report as inappropriate
i loved her so beautiful and talented and so very underated

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