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​The 1st black superstar - documentary from BBC

​Documentary from BBC

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker   1906-1975

Her name appeared in big, bright lights.  Thousands of admirers sent her love letters.  She was one of the most famous dancers in history.  She loved freedom, and she cared about people.  Her name was Josephine Baker.

Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 3, 1906.  Her parents were Louis and Cary Baker.  The family was very poor, and Cary Baker did laundry to support her four children.  When Josephine was only eight, she left school and went to work as a maid.  As she worked, she would dream of being a singer, a dancer--a great star.

​When she was 15, Josephine joined a traveling dance show.  Soon she was in New York City.  She sang and danced in several different shows.  But, she wanted greater things for herself.  Her chance came in 1925.  She was offered a part as a dancer in La Revue Negre (The Black Revue) in Paris, France.  She knew that opportunities for Black artists were greater in Europe, so she left the United States.

La Revue Negre opened in October, 1925.  The show made the Black Bottom, and other Black American dances.  The people of Paris, never having seen anyone like her, went wild.

Next, Baker took her show all over Europe.  She appeared in 25 cities.  When she returned to Paris, she opened a new show in which she sang as well as danced.  Again, she was a great success.  She became the leading attraction at the Follies Bergere, a big Paris nightclub.  Baker became so famous that she was a symbol of Paris, like the Eiffel Tower.  In 1937, she became a citizen of France.  

In 1939, World War II began.  In this war, the armies of Germany conquered many of the other nations of Europe.  France fell to Germany in June of 1940.  Josephine Baker became a spy for the French Resistance, a secret group formed to resist (fight back against) the Germans.  The United States and Great Britain also fought against Germany.  In the end, Germany lost the war.  Later, the government of France honored Josephine Baker for her wartime bravery.  She received two medals; the Rosette of the Resistance and France's  highest award--Legion of Honor.

In 1951, Josephine Baker brought her show to the United States.  She was praised as a great star.  She also made headlines because she would not appear at any club that did not admit Black people.  Because of her, many night clubs opened their doors to Blacks for the first time.

Josephine Baker's success made her very rich.  She loved children and pets.  So with her money, she brought a mansion on a huge farm.  There she raised 14 children who were without parents.  Because the children came from countries all over the world, she called them her "rainbow family."  The family shared the farm with animals of all kinds.

Baker also had a special love for her race.  She fought all of her life for the civil rights of Blacks.  In August, 1963, she took part in the great March on Washington.  In October of that same year, she gave a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York.  She gave the ticket money from that concert and from many other shows to the Civil Rights Movement.

Josephine Baker died in Paris on April 12, 1975.  By this time, she had become a legend.  She was more than a great star, she was a freedom fighter and symbol of Black pride.

Excerpt from A Gift of Heritage Historic Blacks in the Arts.

This is only a summary of the life of the great Josephine Baker.