Thursday, March 17, 2011

Women's History Month: Josephine Baker, Entertainer & Activist

By J9 of J9's MusicLife

To celebrate Women's History month, throughout March check out a series of features on women who have impacted history as it relates to music.

Josephine Baker (June 3, 1906 – April 12, 1975), American-born French dancer, singer, and actress, was the first African American female to star in a major motion picture and to integrate an American concert hall.  Born Freda Josephine McDonald from St. Louis, Missouri, she lived on the streets at the age of 12.  By 15, her street-corner dancing got her into the St. Louis Chorus vaudeville show.  She then moved to New York City and performed at the Plantation Club and in the chorus of the popular Broadway revues.  Baker was considered "the highest-paid chorus girl in vaudeville."

Later, she went to Paris and performed at the jazz revue La Revue Nègre.  Even though the show failed, the attention she received gave her the opportunity to open at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in 1925.  There, she became a success, known for her erotic dancing.  Some might be familiar with the bananas costume she wore in the Danse sauvage.   These performances gave her the nicknames "Black Venus," "Black Pearl" and "Creole Goddess." 

Soon after, Baker became the most successful American entertainer in France.  Her most successful song was J'ai deux amours (1931) and she became a muse for contemporary authors, painters, designers, and sculptors like Langston Hughes, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and Christian Dior.

To read more, click here.

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