Friday

SPOTLIGHT: JOSEPHINE BAKER


HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOSEPHINE BAKER!


1906 

Josephine Baker
dancer/singer/Parisian night club owner
b. June 3rd, 1906, St. Lous, MO, USA.
d. April 12, 1975, Paris, France.
(Cerebral hemorrhage).
né: Frida Josephine McDonald.

Called the 'Black Venus' by an adoring French public, Josephine was the daughter of laundress Carrie McDonald and musician Eddie Carson. As a child, she would dance on the streets of St. Louis for whatever nickels and dimes the passersby would throw her. In 1921, at just age 15, she was both working as a chorus girl on the St. Louis stage, and married to a Pullman porter named Baker. In 1923, at age 17, feeling the extreme racial discrimation of St. Louis, she ran away from both St. Louis and Baker. She ran fairly far.



Her first job in Paris was in La Revue Negre, following which, she was accepted as a chorine at the famed Folies Bergere, as a member of their all-black revue. In 1925, at the Folies Bergere, she first performed her famous banana dance. The Folies Bergere patrons loved it and her fame grew. Later, Janet Flanner, a "New Yorker" magazine correspondent would write: "Her magnificent dark body, a new model to the French, proved for the first time that black was beautiful." And, Pablo Picasso (writing of her work in the Folies-Bergere would write: "Tall, coffee skin, ebony eyes, legs of paradise, a smile to end all smiles."
Unbelievably, during U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy's communist "witch hunt" era, she became persona non grata in the United States. Renouncing her American citizenship, in 1937, she became a citizen of France. In 1961, France awarded her their highest civilian award, making her a member of 'The Legion of Honor'. Her life was a full one. She refused to perform in clubs that practiced racial segregation. During her lifetime, she adopted 11 children of different races, religions, and nationalities, all of whom lived in her home (she was very protective of them) and all of whom loved her. She once had a rejected (and dejected) suitor kill himself at her feet. In 1928, her husband/manager 'Count' Pepito di Abatino dueled Andrew Czolovodi, a Hungarian calvary officer, over Josephine in St. Stephen's cemetery in Budapest. The duel lasted only 10 minutes, ending when di Abatino was scratched by Czolovodi's blade.
During World War II, she worked as a spy for the French resistance. In the late 1960's, aging, and with a changing world, financial difficulties became troubling. In 1968, she stopped performing. She accepted a home in Monaco from Princess Grace (Kelly) who had learned of her financial distress. All told, Josephine was married five times; First to 'Willie Baker' (1920), 'Count' Pepito di Abatino' (? ca 1926), then to 'Jean Lion' (1937), next to 'Joe Bouillon' (1947) whom she divorced, and finally to 'Robert Brady' (1973) also ending in divorce.
In 1974, Josephine performed once more, at Monaco's summer ball, to great acclaim. That same year, she traveled to New York City for a week long stage performances in the show 'An Evening with Josephine Baker On April 10, 1975, Josephine was in a Paris revue celebrating her half-century on the stage, when she suffered a severe stroke and went into a coma. She never regained consciousness. Her funeral was held in Paris, and she was buried in Monaco. Her haunting theme song "Two Loves Have I (both of them are you)", remains popular to music lovers the world around.
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