Today’s lesson plan has us delving into the life of one of our most treasured icons: Josephine Baker.
While most of us are at least familiar with the name and the iconic banana skirt, The “Black Pearl” was a diverse entertainer and a pioneer in many ways that make her a cultural icon into today.
Born in 1906 to washerwoman Carrie McDonald and vaudeville drummer Eddie Carson, Freda Josephine McDonald began working at a very young age. She never depended on a partner for her financial support, unusual for a woman at the time, and therefore never stayed when she felt the relationship was no longer in her best interest.
She toured the United States with The Jones Family Band and The Dixie Steppers in 1919, auditioning for the show “Shuffle Along,” eventually gaining the stage and staying with the show until the end of it’s run. She then moved to New York’s Plantation Club, where she was a modest success, until traveling to Paris to preform in “La Revue Nègre.” It was there, overseas from the land of her birth, that Josephine was finally recognized for her amazing performances. She was bold, daring and the audiences adored her.
Her fame grew in leaps and bounds and by 1927 she earned more than any other entertainer in Europe. She was one of the most photographed women in the world, starring in films and performing to packed audiences. A brief, but disastrous attempt to return to her homeland to work with The Ziegfield Follies cemented her permanent move to France.
Josephine Baker’s remarkable spirit continued into her work during WW2, through adopting her 12 children, to engaging in discourse over racism and civil rights in the 60s to performing at the Carnegie Hall. Her biography is literally too diverse and remarkable to successfully distill into a brief Facebook post. She died in 1975 and was buried (the first American woman to be so with honors) in Cimetiére de Monaco, Monaco. Over 20,000 people turned out to watch her funeral procession.