6 July 2014 - JOSEPHINE BAKER


JOSEPHINE BAKER

G'day folks,

Welcome to some facts about an entertainer and dancer who enjoyed a very interesting life - Josephine Baker.


Josephine Baker was an American-born French dancer, singer, and actress who came to be known in various circles as the "Black Pearl," "Bronze Venus" and even the "Creole Goddess".

Born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, she later took the name Baker from her second husband, Willie Baker, whom she married at age 15.

Surviving the 1917 riots in East St. Louis, Illinois, where the family was living, Josephine Baker ran away a few years later at age thirteen and began dancing in vaudeville and on Broadway. In 1925, Josephine Baker went to Paris where, after the jazz revue La Revue Nègre failed, her comic ability and jazz dancing drew attention of the director of the Folies Bergère.

Virtually an instant hit, Josephine Baker became one of the best-known entertainers in both France and much of Europe. Her exotic, sensual act reinforced the creative images coming out of the Harlem Renaissance in America.


 During World War II Josephine Baker worked with the Red Cross, gathered intelligence for the French Resistance and entertained troops in Africa and the Middle East.

After the war, Josephine Baker adopted, with her second husband, twelve children from around the world, making her home a World Village, a "showplace for brotherhood." She returned to the stage in the 1950s to finance this project.

In 1951 in the United States, Josephine Baker was refused service at the famous Stork Club in New York City. Yelling at columnist Walter Winchell, another patron of the club, for not coming to her assistance, she was accused by Winchell of communist and fascist sympathies. Never as popular in the US as in Europe, she found herself fighting the rumors begun by Winchell as well.

Josephine Baker responded by crusading for racial equality, refusing to entertain in any club or theater that was not integrated, and thereby breaking the color bar at many establishments. In 1963, she spoke at the March on Washington at the side of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Josephine Baker's World Village fell apart in the 1950s and in 1969 she was evicted from her chateau which was then auctioned off to pay debts. Princess Grace of Monaco gave her a villa. In 1973 Baker married an American, Robert Brady, and began her stage comeback.

In 1975, Josephine Baker's Carnegie Hall comeback performance was a success, as was her subsequent Paris performance. But two days after her last Paris performance, she died of a stroke.


Achievements

 Transmission of culture
Josephine was instrumental in the introduction of the Jazz Age to Europe; she helped represent American culture at a time when Europeans thought America had no culture.

Humanitarian
She did frequent charity work in Paris, appearing at benefits as well as being generally helpful. According to Phyllis Rose in Jazz Cleopatra, Josephine "kissed babies in foundling homes, gave dolls to the young and soup to the aged."

War efforts
During World War II, Josephine worked as a Red Cross nurse and an underground courier for the French Resistance. She also entertained troops as a sub-lieutenant in the women's auxiliary of the Free French forces.

Civil rights activist
Despite her attachment to Paris, Josephine felt it was her duty to help advance the civil rights movement in America. She wouldn't perform in theaters that discriminated, refusing to go on stage until blacks were allowed to sit in the same areas as whites. Josephine also spoke at the 1963 March on Washington, telling the crowd they looked like "Salt and pepper. Just what it should be."

Children of the world
Josephine didn't have children of her own, so she started an adopted family she called her "Rainbow Tribe." She wanted to prove that children of different colors and nationalities could live and prosper together. In all, she adopted 12 children from all over the world, but in the process, she lost her husband and her home.


Quotes:

"Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one's soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood."

"The secret to the fountain of youth is to think youthful thoughts."

"... I improvised, crazed by the music... Even my teeth and eyes burned with fever. Each time I leaped I seemed to touch the sky and when I regained earth it seemed to be mine alone."

"I believe in prayer. It's the best way we have to draw strength from heaven."

"Beautiful? It's all a question of luck. I was born with good legs. As for the rest... beautiful, no. Amusing, yes."

"I like Frenchmen very much, because even when they insult you they do it so nicely."

"Since I personified the savage on the stage, I tried to be as civilized as possible in daily life."

"We must change the system of education and instruction. Unfortunately, history has shown us that brotherhood must be learned, when it should be natural."

"It [the Eiffel Tower] looked very different from the Statue of Liberty, but what did that matter? What was the good of having the statue without the liberty?"

"I did take the blows [of life], but I took them with my chin up, in dignity, because I so profoundly love and respect humanity."

"We've got to show that blacks and whites are treated equally in the army. Otherwise, what's the point of waging war on Hitler?"

"I love performing. I shall perform until the day I die."

"I'm not intimidated by anyone. Everyone is made with two arms, two legs, a stomach and a head. Just think about that."

"The white imagination is sure something when it comes to blacks."

"Art is an elastic sort of love."

"One day I realized I was living in a country where I was afraid to be black. It was only a country for white people. Not black. So I left. I had been suffocating in the United States... A lot of us left, not because we wanted to leave, but because we couldn't stand it anymore... I felt liberated in Paris."

"I am tired of that artificial life. The work of being a star disgusts me now. All the intrigues which surround the star disgust me... I want to work three or four more years and then quit the stage. I'll go live in Italy or the South of France. I will get married, as simply as possible. I will have children, and many animals. I love them. I want to live in peace surrounded by children and animals. But if one of my children wanted to go onstage in the music hall, I would strangle it with my own two hands."

"The old Catholic parties hounded me with a Christian hatred from station to station, city to city, one stage to another."

"You are on the eve of a complete victory. You can't go wrong. The world is behind you."
- Josephine, speaking at the '63 March on Washington

"Salt and pepper. Just what it should be."
- Josephine, looking over the crowd at the 1963 March

"Until the March on Washington, I always had this little feeling in my stomach. I was always afraid. I couldn't meet white American people. I didn't want to be around them. But now that little gnawing feeling is gone. For the first time in my life I feel free. I know that everything is right now."

"I think they must mix blood, otherwise the human race is bound to degenerate. Mixing blood is marvelous. It makes strong and intelligent men. It takes away tired spirits."


Clancy's comment: Some people sure lead interesting lives, eh? I pricked up my ears when I read that she took the name Baker from her SECOND husband whom she married at 15. Right.



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