Josephine Baker

By: Allie White

A Brief Biography of Josephine Baker

Freda Josephine McDonald was born on June 3, 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri. In order to help support her family, Josephine Baker cleaned homes and babysat for wealthy white people whom usually treated her very poorly. Around age 13, Josephine ran away from home and became a club waitress, she later married and divorced her first husband Willie Wells. This is also the time where Josephine Baker first learned to dance.

In 1919, she began touring with people like the Jones Family Band and the Dixie Steppers. She moved to New York to perform in musicals as well as shows in clubs, shortly becoming a fan favorite. During France’s obsession with American Jazz in 1925, Baker moved to Paris and performed in a popular show La Revue Nègre at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. She eventually became wildly popular and well liked performing in shows such as La Folie du Jour, Zou-Zou, and Princesse Tam-Tam. Her first time singing professionally was in 1930. Upon returning home to the United States in 1936, Josephine Baker was struck with a hostile and racist reaction, she quickly returned home to France. This would later spark her to return home in order to support the Civil Rights Movement.

When World War 2 occurred, Josephine became a nurse for the Red Cross for France. During the war she became a member of the Free French Forces entertaining troops from Africa and the Middle East. She also helped France during the French Resistance, smuggling messages and sheet music.

Baker frequently returned home to the United States during the 1950s in order to support the Civil Rights Movement. She participated in the activities like boycotting segregated venues and and clubs. During the March on Washington in 1963, Josephine Baker participated with Martin Luther King Jr. and was one of many speakers that day. May 20, was eventually name “Josephine Baker Day” by the NAACP in honor of her efforts during the 1950s.

One of Baker’s last shows was her performance at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1973 in which she was given a standing ovation. April 1975, marked her final show in remembrance of her debut in Paris 50 years before, numerous celebrities were there in order to support their dear friend. On April 12, 1975, at the age of 69, Josephine Baker died of Cerebral Hemorrhage in her sleep and was buried with military honors.

Impact of Josephine Baker

One of the world's most famous performers during her time. Her efforts to help during the Civil Rights Movement earned her even more publicity and even a whole day named and dedicated to her.