Josephine Baker: 5 Things To Know About This Extraordinary Artist
In the collective imagination, Josephine Baker is above all a music hall star, a showgirl known for her song J'ai deux amours. But behind the glitter was a woman committed to the Resistance and the Black cause in the United States. Here are 5 things to know about this artist with an extraordinary destiny.
1- She grew up in poverty
Freda Josephine McDonald was born in the United States, in St. Louis, Missouri on June 3, 1906.
She grew up in great poverty and was exposed to racist violence from an early age. She lived with her mother at the time in wooden shacks that were often set on fire by whites.
To escape poverty, she left school at the age of 13 and was hired in a club where she replaced an injured dancer.
2- She became a star at the age of 19
At the age of 15, divorced from her first husband, Josephine took the name of her second husband, Baker.
But, after a tour, she left this second husband and set out to conquer the cabarets of New York! It was there that she was spotted in 1925 by a producer who suggested she perform in Paris.
She was acclaimed at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées where she performed the 'danse sauvage'. She then became a revue leader at the Folies Bergères where she sported her famous banana belt.
In 1930, she became a singer at the Casino de Paris and the composer Vincent Scotto wrote her biggest hit, J'ai deux amours.
3- She committed herself to Free France
In 1937, Josephine Baker obtained French nationality by marrying broker Jean Lion in her third marriage.
When the war broke out, Jacques Abtey, head of military counter-espionage, recruited her.
She then crosses borders with messages hidden in her music scores and microfilms hidden... in her bra!
4- She fought for black rights in the United States
Of course, Josephine Baker became a legend as a singer and dancer. But beyond her dazzling career, she was a woman of struggle.
Not only did she risk her life as a resistance fighter, but she was also involved in the fight for black rights in the United States.
When she returned to her native country, she found that the condition of African Americans had not changed.
In 1951, at the Stork Club in Manhattan, she was refused service. She then decided to become an activist.
She adopts 12 children of all backgrounds to form what she calls a 'rainbow tribe'.
She housed all this little family at the Château des Milandes in Dordogne acquired with her fourth husband, the conductor Jo Bouillon.
After her divorce in 1961, she was saddled with debts and had to leave her estate in 1969. Her friend Grace Kelly moved her to a villa on the French Riviera.
5- She will enter the Pantheon
Josephine Baker died of a stroke on April 12, 1975, just two weeks after opening a new revue at Bobino.
Her wish to sing and dance until the end of her life will thus have been fulfilled. She had indeed declared: 'I will dance, sing and act all my life. I would like to die out of breath, exhausted, at the end of a dance or a chorus.'
On November 30, 2021, this woman with an unusual destiny will enter the Pantheon for her commitment to the Resistance and the fight against racism.
She will be the sixth woman and the first black woman to receive this national honor, one of the greatest tributes that can be paid in France.
Her body, however, will remain in Monaco where the artist is currently buried. The only thing that will be seen at the Pantheon is a cenotaph with a plaque as for Aimé Césaire and other personalities.
Before her, Simone Veil was the last personality to be pantheonized in 2018.