In the 1920s she moved to France and shortly became one of Europe’s most popular and highest-paid performers. She worked for the French Resistance during the Second World War, and during the 1950s and ’60s dedicated herself to fighting segregation and racism in America. Her mom, Carrie McDonald, was a washerwoman who’d given up her dreams to become a music hall dancer. Her dad, Eddie Carson, was a vaudeville drummer. He gave up Carrie and Josephine soon after her arrival. Carrie remarried shortly afterwards and would have several more kids in the forthcoming years. To help support her growing family, at age 8 Josephine cleaned houses and babysat for rich white families, frequently being badly handled. She briefly returned to school two years after before running from home at age 13 and finding work as a waiter in a nightclub. While working there, she married a guy named Willie Wells, from whom she divorced only weeks after.
It was also around this time that Josephine first took up dancing, honing her abilities both in nightclubs as well as in road performances, and by 1919 she was touring the Usa using the Jones Family Band as well as the Dixie Steppers performing comedic skits. In 1921, Josephine married a guy named Willie Baker, whose name she’d keep for the remainder of her life despite their divorce years after. In 1923, Baker got a character in the musical Shuffle Along as an associate of the chorus, as well as the witty touch that she brought to the component made her popular with crowds.
She made an immediate impression on French crowds when, with dance partner Joe Alex, she performed the Danse Sauvage, where she wore just a feather skirt. Nevertheless, it was the subsequent year, at the Folies Bergre music hall, among the most used of the age, that Baker’s career would reach an important turning point. In a performance called La Folie du Jour, Baker danced wearing little higher than a skirt made from 16 bananas.
Capitalizing on this particular success, Baker sang professionally for the very first time in 1930, and many years afterwards acquired movie characters as a vocalist in Zouzou and Princesse Tam-Tam. The money she made from her performances shortly enabled her to buy an estate in Castelnaud Fayrac, in the southwest of France. She named the estate Les Milandes, and shortly paid to move her family there from St. Louis.
In 1936, driving the tide of popularity she was loving in France, Baker returned to America to perform in the Ziegfield Follies, expecting to set up herself as a performer in her home country at the same time. Nevertheless, she was met using a generally hostile, racist reaction and immediately returned to France, crestfallen at her mistreatment. Upon her return, Baker wed French industrialist Jean Lion and got citizenship in the united states that had adopted her as one of its own.
When World War II erupted after that year, Baker worked for the Red Cross through the occupation of France. As an associate of the Free French forces she also amused troops in both Africa and also the Middle East. Maybe above all, nevertheless, Baker did work for the French Resistance, at times smuggling messages concealed in her sheet music as well as in her panties. For all these attempts, in the war’s ending, Baker was given both the Croix de Guerre as well as the Legion of Honour together with the rosette of the Opposition, two of France’s greatest military honours.
Following the war, Baker spent the majority of her time at Les Milandes with her family. In 1947, she married French orchestra leader Jo Bouillon, and start in 1950 started to adopt infants from all over the world. She regularly invited folks to the estate to see these kids, to show that individuals of different races could actually live together harmoniously. During the 1950s, Baker often returned to America to add her support to the Civil Rights Movement, participating in protests and boycotting segregated nightclubs and concert venues. In honor of her attempts, the NAACP eventually named May 20th “Josephine Baker Day.”
After decades of rejection by her countrymen as well as a life spent coping with racism, in 1973 Baker performed at Carnegie Hall in Nyc and was met with a standing ovation. She was so moved by her reception that she wept openly before her crowd. The show proved to be a tremendous success and marked Baker’s comeback to the stage.In April 1975, Josephine Baker performed in the Bobino Theater in Paris, in the very first of a number of performances celebrating the 50th anniversary of her Paris debut. Only days after, on April 12, 1975, Baker died in her sleep of a cerebral hemorrhage. She was 69.