7 Crazy Facts About Josephine Baker
I don’t want to give too much away about Josephine Baker before we get into our list, but suffice to say she lived through some of the most tumultuous events of the 20th century and made herself relevant throughout.
As a woman born in 1906 in St. Louis of (likely) mixed descent (the biographer believed her father was probably a German man, while her mother was an African-American performer) she defied every expectation and refused to let anyone decide her role for her.
Throughout this list, you will be amazed at the breadth and depth of her accomplishments.
1. Josephine Baker Never Knew Who Her Father Was
There has been a lot of speculation as to the identity of her father. Her mother never revealed his actual identity. This, amongst issues with Josephine becoming an entertainer, led to their falling out and Josephine’s eventual decision to make the trip to Paris.
Josephine Baker as a child worked as a dancer on street corners and in small clubs. She eventually got some gigs in New York during the Harlem Renaissance and began to attract a moderate amount of attention. This motivated her to push her career further and to seek out new audiences.
2. She Renounced Her U.S. Citizenship and Moved to France
After she had faced rejection by some crowds and critics in the United States, she returned to Paris heartbroken. Though she had moved to Europe sometime earlier, it was this event that led her to end her U.S. citizenship and become a citizen of France.
She would go on to become a hero for her adopted country.
3. Josephine Refused to Perform for Segregated Audiences
Having been raised in America and feeling the full brunt of racism and segregation that existed there at the time, Josephine would refuse to play to a segregated audience. She even turned down a $10,000 offer from a Miami club.
Though she experienced a good amount of racism as a child, it was most likely the incident where she and her husband had to look at over 50 hotel rooms in an effort to get a room (most were simply unwilling to house a mixed-race couple) that pushed her into such a defiant stance on the matter.
4. She Was the First African American to Play the Lead in a Film
Josephine starred in the 1934 Marc Allégret film, Zouzou. This film along with her stage performances that included props like her banana skirt and her pet Cheetah “Chiquita” are what eventually led to her global fame.
I tried to find out if the combo of her Cheetah and banana clothing has any direct link to inspiring Chiquita Bananas (the fruit company, which adopted that name well after her act) but I couldn’t find any. It just feels like too big of a coincidence though…
5. She Was Friends with Frida Kahlo
Though Josephine was married four times, she was bisexual. Amongst her lovers was the famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The romance of Josephine Baker and Frida Kahlo is a famous and notorious one. Baker’s character makes an appearance in the film Frida. You can learn more about Frida Kahlo with ‘Frida Kahlo: a Biography’ on Geeker.
6. She Worked as a Spy During WWII
Josephine was recruited as an “honorable correspondent” by the French resistance when the Germans invaded. She would feed the resistance information about troop movements and other such tactical information she gleaned from officers she met at parties. Her fame gave her access to very high ranking officials. After the war, Josephine Baker’s work as a French spy earned her multiple awards, provided by Charles De Gaulle.
7. Josephine Almost Became a Leader of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement
Josephine Baker was a staunch advocate for civil rights, and this displayed itself in many interesting ways. “Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe” sounds like the title of some kid’s movie, but it was actually the title given to the unique home situation she had built. Baker had children from every race as she made it a point to adopt a child “of every race” and to create the ultimate multicultural home. This part of the story would require another three posts to explain fully.
Given her pro-African American stances, her high profile, and her anti-segregationist views, Coretta Scott King offered her a position in the civil rights movement leadership after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. She considered it for a time but turned it down out for fear for her tribe of children.