(June 3, 1906 – April 12, 1975)
by Bea Wayne
Why We Should Care: This entertainer extraordinaire and American ex-patriot not only captivated audiences worldwide with her dancing, charisma and sensuality, she also used her art to combat segregation in the United States.
Three Traits We Admire: Her promotion of diversity. The original Angelina, she adopted twelve children from countries around the world, including Korea, Cote D’Ivoire, Venezuela and…Canada.
Her courage. During WWII, she worked underground for the French Resistance.
Her love of animals. At one time, she owned a snake, a goat, a parrot, parakeets, fish, three cats and seven dogs. Not to mention her most beloved pet, a cheetah named Chiquita who wore a diamond collar and performed in her act.
Style Best Described As: Potassium-chic. She first gained fame for the “danse sauvage” she performed at the Folies-Bergere where her only clothing was a skirt consisting of sixteen bananas.
What High School Text Books Didn’t Say: After living in France, she insisted on speaking English in a French accent. Once, a maid at a dinner party told her “honey, you is full of shit. Speak the way yo’ mouth was born”. She had the woman fired.
How She’s Celebrated: The NAACP named May 20th Josephine Baker Day. So think of May 20th as a day to celebrate the intersection of art and activism. Or just perform your own “danse” wearing nothing but a string of bananas. Pretend you can hear the deafening applause of thousands of appreciative French men. Josephine would approve.
For Her Biopic We’d Cast: There is already a biopic about her, but nobody plays Josephine Baker better than Josephine Baker, so check out La Sirène de Tropiques, Zouzou or Princesse Tam Tam for the real experience.