An American ex-patriot, Josephine Baker's career thrived in the integrated Paris society. Starring at the Follies-Bergère Theater she garnered celebrity status and by 1927, she earned more than any entertainer in Europe. A 1936 return to the United States to star in the Ziegfield Follies proved disastrous. American audiences rejected the idea of a black woman with so much sophistication and power. Newspaper reviews were equally cruel (The New York Times called her a "Negro wench"), and Josephine returned to Paris heartbroken. Josephine was later decorated for her undercover work for the French Resistance during World War II. She died in Paris in 1975 and became the first American woman to receive French military honors at her funeral.
She often combined performance with civil rights activism, refusing to perform in clubs that would not permit an integrated audience. Her performances, which usually included songs in a number of languages, can be viewed as an extension of her personal philosophy and belief in racial harmony.
She served with the French Red Cross during WWII. With the fall of France in 1940 she became active in the resistance movement. Using her career as a cover she became an intelligence agent. In 1961 she received the Legion d'Honneur for her efforts from Charles deGaulle. She was awarded the Croix de Guerre, and received a Medal of the Resistance in 1946.
Baker's celebrity allowed her to travel much more freely then most people during that time period. She once carried military intelligence reports out of France to Portugal, written in invisible ink on her sheet music. She also used her charm to persuade foreign consulates to process visas for associates, some of whom travelled with her as a cover.
In the late 1960's, she began having financial difficulties, and stopped performing in 1968. Princess Grace offered her a home in Monaco when she learned of Josephine's financial problems. At the request of Princess Grace, she performed at Monaco's summer ball in 1974, and was a great success. That same year, she staged a week of performances in New York and called the show 'An Evening with Josephine Baker.' She had just begun a Paris revue celebrating her half-century on the stage, when on April 10 she was stricken and went into a coma. She died without regaining consciousness [on April 12, 1975]. Her funeral was held in Paris, and she was buried in Monaco.
These photos are all from the 1950's-1960's...She's wearing Dior in the one where she's singing and holding a fur stole.
She married 4 times, and adopted 12 children of different races. She called them her "Rainbow Tribe".
These are all photos of her and her children. The B&W ones are from 1959, the colored one is probably from the same time. The postcard is from her home, which she called the "Village du Monde" (Village of the World).
(stripes.com; vintage postcards.com)
“It is absurd to divide people into good & bad. People are either charming or tedious.”
— Oscar Wilde