A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Facts about the Fabulous Flapper Josephine Baker

Nicknames: “Black Pearl”, “Black Venus”, “Singer, Dancer, Activist, Spy” & “Creole Goddess”

1. She was born in June 3, 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri & Died: April 12, 1975 in Paris, France. So, while originally she was from America, rampant racism drove Josephine to flee to France where even though there was still racism abroad, it was less severe and Ms. Baker’s talents were greatly appreciated by French audiences where she brought the energy and creative power of the Harlem Renaissance which inspired her in her youth.  One of her signature songs was called “J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris.” (“I have two loves: my country and Paris.”).

2. Josephine renounced her citizenship in the USA so she could aid the French Resistance in WW II

3. She was a lady of many firsts. She was the first Black Woman to:

-Star in a major motion picture called Siren of the Tropics (1927).

-Travel to Yugoslavia on the Orient Express as a star (1929).

-Be inducted into the Parisian Pantheon (2021).

4. Her jazz-age exotic dancing full of exuberance captivated the Folies Bergère and crowds all over France whenever and wherever she performed. This helped catapult her into international stardom. In fact, her cafe-society connections and charming personality helped her obtain information for the Deuxième Bureau making her a helpful spy for the french military intelligence agency during German’s invasion of Poland. Under the guise of traveling for her performances, she used her connections to gather and transmit important information to England that helped the war effort exponentially. Invisible inked notes were even written on Baker’s sheet music. She also provided visas and shelter for people in the Free French effort. She was named Chevailer of the Légion d’honneur by General Charles de Gaulle, awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French military and the Medal of the Resistance with Rosette.

5. She had many famous fans included Picasso who painted her and saw her as a muse, Ernest Hemingway, E.E. Cummings, and Jean Cocteau. Ms. Baker was also close friends with Grace Kelly. 

6. Ahead of her time in many ways, Baker was bisexual and had a public romance with Frida Kahlo which was barrier-breaking and amazingly rebellious of social conventions of the time.

7. Josephine was also part of the Civil Rights Movement. She refused to perform for segregated audiences when performing in the US and despite the Ku Klux Klan repeatedly threatening her, she publicly stated she was not afraid of them and kept fighting for the rights of the Black Community.

8. One of her acts included dancing with her pet cheetah named Chiquita.

9. Ms. Baker had great comical timing and one of her super vedette  performances included a number wherein she would pretend to forget the dance number she was suppose to do for laughs and then at the very end, she’d perform the number flawlessly to a much astounded audience. 

10. Her generous heart created a large adopted family she lovingly referred to as the “Rainbow Tribe”

11.It is said there were approximately 1,500 proposals made to Josephine and there was even an actual duel between an Italian count and a Hungarian Calvary officer over their love for her. She made them have a truce after witnessing them fighting over her. Those silly men didn’t understand you cannot win love like a prize but I’m sure it was flattering all the same.

12. Her favorite color was blue.

13. A few great pearls of wisdom through Ms. Baker’s quotes:
-“Art is an elastic sort of love.”
-“The things we truly love stay with us always, locked in our hearts as long as life remains.”
-“All my life, I have maintained that the people of the world can learn to live together in peace if they are not brought up in prejudice.”