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Overview for Josephine Baker
Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker


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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: Music ... dancer actor singer entertainer maid


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.

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