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Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker

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The Josephine Baker Collection... Siren Of The Tropics - Available only as a fragment for decades, Siren Of The... more info $59.95was $59.95 Buy Now

Siren Of The Tropics DVD Available only as a fragment for decades, Siren of the Tropics is Josephine... more info $29.95was $29.95 Buy Now

Zou Zou DVD Zou Zou was Conceived as a vehicle for Josephine Baker, then among Europe's most... more info $29.95was $29.95 Buy Now

Princess Tam Tam DVD Buoyed by the success of the French musical Zou Zou a year earlier, the same... more info $29.95was $29.95 Buy Now

La Revue Des Revues DVD St. Louis-born and Harlem-raised Paris music hall superstar Josephine Baker (Zou... more info $24.95was $24.95 Buy Now

It's Black Entertainment... Vanessa Williams hosts “It's Black Entertainment” (2002), a tribute to... more info $9.98was $9.98 Buy Now



Also Known As: Freda Josephine Mcdonald Died: April 12, 1975
Born: June 3, 1906 Cause of Death: cerebral hemorrhage
Birth Place: St Louis, Missouri, USA Profession: dancer, actor, singer, entertainer, maid

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Child performer of the Harlem stage who graduated to black Broadway and then conquered Europe with her effervescent--and mildly salacious--music hall act. At the peak of her success and popularity (she was for a time the highest-paid entertainer on the continent), the cooey-voiced, sometimes banana-clad Baker appeared in a series of films, including a silent short ("La Folie du jour" 1927, her debut), two silent features and several sound films. Of the latter the stand-outs are "Zouzou" (1934), in which she starred opposite Jean Gabin and which was superbly directed by Marc Allegret, and the equally delightful "Princess Tam Tam" (1935), which indirectly highlights the flamboyant construction of her stage image. Having broken through the color barrier on both professional and personal levels was not lost on Baker, who served as an entertainer, ambulance driver and information courier for the French Resistance during WWII. Periodic returns to the United States reminded her, however, that old prejudices die hard, as she later endured snubs and accusations from those who had once been her friends. Through it all Baker kept active, and was still performing at the time of her death in 1975. The year 1989...

Child performer of the Harlem stage who graduated to black Broadway and then conquered Europe with her effervescent--and mildly salacious--music hall act. At the peak of her success and popularity (she was for a time the highest-paid entertainer on the continent), the cooey-voiced, sometimes banana-clad Baker appeared in a series of films, including a silent short ("La Folie du jour" 1927, her debut), two silent features and several sound films. Of the latter the stand-outs are "Zouzou" (1934), in which she starred opposite Jean Gabin and which was superbly directed by Marc Allegret, and the equally delightful "Princess Tam Tam" (1935), which indirectly highlights the flamboyant construction of her stage image.

Having broken through the color barrier on both professional and personal levels was not lost on Baker, who served as an entertainer, ambulance driver and information courier for the French Resistance during WWII. Periodic returns to the United States reminded her, however, that old prejudices die hard, as she later endured snubs and accusations from those who had once been her friends. Through it all Baker kept active, and was still performing at the time of her death in 1975.

The year 1989 saw a resurgence of interest in the expatriate star, largely fueled by the publication of two biographies: "Jazz Cleopatra" by Phyllis Rose and "Josephine Baker" by Patrick O'Connor. Though some have criticized Baker in the past for the exhibitionism of her topless dancing and for what they consider her trading in on exotic stereotypes of people of color, Baker has been reevaluated by writers who have situated her quest for success (necessarily conducted for a time outside her native America) in its historical perspective and who respect her bubbling humor and genuine talent, her vivacious, self-mocking, uninhibited sensuality, and the courage and dignity of her career and personal struggles. In 1987 a British documentary, "Chasing a Rainbow" was made about her life, and in 1991 HBO produced "The Josephine Baker Story" starring Emmy-winner Lynn Whitfield.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
2.
 Princess Tam Tam (1935) Alwina
3.
 Zou Zou (1934)
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1914:
Debut as nightclub singer, Harlem, New York, at age eight
1922:
Worked as a chorus girl in Broadway's first black musical, "Shuffle Along"
1925:
Arrived in Paris with La Revue Negre and became an overnight sensation with her "Danse Sauvage" number
1926:
Met Pepito Abatino and introduced her famous topless "Banana Dance" as a headliner at the Folies Bergere
1927:
First film appearance in silent French short, "La folie du jour"
1928:
Embarked on a year-long tour of European capitals
1930:
Recorded six songs for Columbia Records in Paris, including "J'ai Deux Amours/I Have Two Loves"
:
Starred in her two best-remembered films, "Zouzou" (1934) and "Princess Tam Tam" (1935)
1936:
Returned to America to appear in the "Ziegfeld Follies" with Fanny Brice and Bob Hope, resulting in scathing reviews and breakup with Abatino
1942:
Erroneous reports of Baker's death surfaced; entertained WWII troops
1943:
Carried secret messages through enemy lines; became French Resistance fighter
1951:
Returned to America and opened at Copa City in Miami, performing only before integrated audiences
1951:
Refused dinner service at New York's Stork Club on the basis of her race on same night columnist (and fan) Walter Winchell was at the club; told incident to press, incriminating all the guests (including Winchell, who then began a press campaign against her, labelling Baker a communist); career seriously harmed
1963:
Toured America and joined civil rights march on Washington, DC
1969:
Had first heart attack; lost her French estate, Les Milandes, to creditors
1973:
Gave last US music hall performance at the Palace Theatre, NYC
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

"Josephine Baker...clowned and danced her way to stardom--first on black Broadway, then in Paris, where her rubber-legged impudence on stage and outrageous glamour off stage (she walked her leopard on a diamond leash) made her an icon of the Jazz Age. Funny and sexy at the same time, she danced bare-breasted at the Folies Bergere, but within a decade had transformed herself into an elegant French music-hall performer...Langston Hughes said she reached out from the stage and took everybody's heart in her hands. But when you see early footage of her, it's above all a comic, mocking energy--mockery of herself and mockery of the role she has been cast in--that captivates and explains her wild success in the 20s."--Phyllis Rose, quoted in the "New York Times", March 10, 1991

Baker died in her sleep on the second night of her 50th anniversary show at the Bobino Theater in Paris.

She was decorated in 1946 with the French medal of the Resistance.

She also was decorated in 1961 with the Legion of Honor by French government for activities as entertainer and ambulance driver during WWII.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Pepito Abatino. Painter, producer, impresario. Broke with Baker in 1936, died shortly thereafter; alternately described as an Italian painter or a producer.
husband:
Jean Lyon. Industrialist. Married in 1935, divorced in 1940; French.
husband:
Jo Bouillon. Bandleader. Married in 1947; left Baker c. 1957; French jazz orchestra leader.

Bibliography close complete biography

"Jazz Cleopatra" Doubleday
"Josephine Baker" Jonathan Cape

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