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220px-Josephine_Baker_1950.jpg (15391 bytes)


ACTOR, DANCER (1906-1975)

From the start, Josephine Baker was a survivor.  Far from the glitter and gaiety that characterized her beloved Paris.  Baker's beginnings were harsh and difficult.  Born in the slums of St. Louis, Baker grew up sleeping in cardboard shelters and scavenging for food in garbage cans.  At age 13, Baker left her parents' house and got a job as a waitress.  Soon afterwards, she married Willie Wells.  However, the marriage ended in divorce, and she returned to waitressing.  She then joined a group of performers, the Jones Family Band, and had her stage debut at the Booker T. Washington Theater, a Black vaudeville house in St. Louis.  by age 18, she was out of Missouri, had been discovered in New York and was performing with numerous trouped in various stage productions. 

Some of these productions included the Folies-Bergeres, Ziegfeld Folies, and the famed le negre revue in Paris.  In Le Negre Revue, Baker danced with a male partner, her costumes consisting of a skirt of feathers.  It was in Paris that Baker's transformation began.  For a city that was bursting with the spirit and rhythm of jazz, Baker was a perfect match.  She was an entertainer and dancer, known for her contortionist position, striking ebony features, and goofy, cross-eyed face.  As she swung from a trapeze at the Folies-Bergeres or tossed flowers to her audience, baker embodied the pain and emotion of the times. 

Revised: July 18, 2013.