Josephine Baker, aka “La Baker,” was a dancer and singer who became wildly popular in France during the 1920s. She also devoted much of her life to fighting racism. Singer and dancer Josephine Baker was probably the closest thing the Jazz Age had to a Britney Spears-type star.
Born Freda Josephine McDonald on June 3, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri, Josephine Baker spent her youth in poverty before learning to dance and finding success on Broadway. In the 1920s she moved to France and soon became one of Europe’s most popular and highest-paid performers.
She worked for the French Resistance during World War II, and during the 1950s and ’60s devoted herself to fighting segregation and racism in the United States.
After beginning her comeback to the stage in 1973, Josephine Baker died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1975, and was buried with military honors.
Undoubtedly a source of inspiration for many of today’s female music and film stars, there’s still loads of facts about Baker many of us never knew and of course we uncovered them!
1. She and grace Kelly were very close friends. Although Baker lived and worked in France, she still made frequent touring trips back to the United States. During one 1951 visit to New York, Baker found herself at the Stork Club at the same time as rising actress Grace Kelly.
When the racist staff refused to wait on Baker, Kelly, who was dining with a large party of her own, flew into a rage and walked out of the club in support of Baker.
From that moment on, Kelly and Baker were close friends. In fact, when the Rainbow Tribe’s chateau was on the rocks financially, Kelly—who by that time had become Princess Grace of Monaco—tried to bail Baker out with her creditors.
When Baker ended up losing the house, Kelly didn’t abandon her friend. Instead, she arranged for the singer to have a villa in Monaco.
2. She had an interesting love life. Josephine was married four times and received over 1,500 proposals in her lifetime. She married first at 13, took her name from her second husband, and received her French citizenship from her third husband. She was also known to have several female lovers.
3. She was a spy. During World War 2, Instead, she stuck around and did her part for the war effort. Since she had initially publicly supported Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, the Axis powers mistakenly thought she was “one of them,” and Baker took full advantage of this misconception.
When Baker would travel Europe while touring, she obviously had to carry large quantities of sheet music with her, which carried secret messages in invisible ink.
Her spy work eventually helped her rise to the rank of lieutenant in the Free French Air Force, and when the war was over she received both the Croix de Guerre (a first for an American woman) and the Medal of the Resistance in 1946.
4. She had some really cool nicknames besides “La Baker”. Baker was also called “Black Venus,” “Black Pearl,” and “Creole Goddess.”
5. She had a lot of exotic animals. When a club owner gave her a pet cheetah named Chiquita to use as part of her dance show, Baker loved it. The cat stayed with her long after the act ended; eventually the cheetah traveled the world with Baker, always riding in her car and sleeping in her bed.
That wasn’t Baker’s only pet, though. She had a goat named Toutoute who lived in her dressing room at her nightclub, and at the same club she had a pet pig named Albert.
6. Two men fought for her love. In 1928, a Hungarian cavalry officer challenged an Italian count to a swordfight duel for Baker’s love in Budapest. The two duelers met in a cemetery for their showdown while Baker cheered on the Count from a perch atop a tombstone.
The two men battled with swords for a solid ten minutes before the Count took a light blow to the shoulder. At that point, Baker intervened and forced the two men to set aside their differences.