Dates: June 3, 1906 – April 12, 1975
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 Iiving,Josephine Baker ran away a few years later at age thirteen and began dancing in vaudeville on Broadway. In 1925, Josephine Baker went to Paris where, after the jazz revue La Revue Negre failed, her comic ability and jazz dancing drew attention of the director of the Folies Bergere.
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 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.