Josephine Baker by Martha Rich
Josephine Baker had the power to make men melt at her feet. In some cases, she was even able to stop their hearts with just one shake of her hips. Yes, she was known for donning the stage with only a string of bananas attached to her waist while she danced. Yes, she served up burlesque realness in every single photo she’s ever taken. Yes, American audiences couldn’t handle her eccentric performances and the sheer fact that she was a sophisticated black woman doing what she loved the most. She soon a found a home in Paris and took the whole city by storm with her provocative presence.
By the end of 1935, she had toured extensively throughout Europe, starred in two films and recorded material under Columbia Records — all this in only a handful of years. What’s even more striking about her life is what she was able to achieve outside of her work as an entertainer and musician. This expatriate extraordinaire also worked as an undercover spy during Hitler’s regime. Passport checkers hardly knew that Josephine was smuggling messages written in invisible ink on the back of sheet music for the French Resistance during WWII because they were so starstruck! In the latter part of her life, she melded her personal struggle with the political realm by returning to the United States and working as a civil rights activist. Want another lesser known aspect of her life? Since she was unable to have children of her own, she adopted 11 of various races and ethnicities that she aptly dubbed “The Rainbow Tribe.” What couldn’t this amazing woman do?
- Brianne Moore