Josephine Baker was an American-born French dancer, singer, and actress who was a major figure in the entertainment industry and the civil rights movement. She was known for her exotic and electrifying performances, her outspoken support for racial equality, and her work as an intelligence agent during World War II.WATCH: Allison Semmes recreating Josephine Baker photos.
Josephine Baker was born Freda Josephine McDonald on June 3, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri. She was the youngest of seven children in a poor family. Her parents divorced when she was young, and she was raised by her mother and grandmother. Baker began dancing in the streets of St. Louis as a child, and she quickly gained a reputation for her talent. She left St. Louis in her teens to pursue a career in show business, and she eventually made her way to New York City.
Career in France
Baker moved to Paris in 1925, and she quickly became a sensation. She was known for her exotic dance routines, her risque costumes, and her infectious charisma. She became a favorite of the Parisian audience, and she was soon performing at the most famous nightclubs in the city.
Baker’s success in France was due in part to the fact that she was a breath of fresh air in the European entertainment industry. She was a black American woman, and she was not afraid to embrace her heritage. She was also a very talented performer, and she had a unique stage presence that captivated audiences.
Activism and World War II
Baker was a vocal advocate for racial equality, and she used her platform to speak out against racism and discrimination. She refused to perform for segregated audiences, and she was a strong supporter of the NAACP. During World War II, Baker worked as an intelligence agent for the French Resistance. She used her fame and her connections to smuggle messages and supplies between France and England. She also helped to rescue Jewish refugees from the Nazis.WATCH: Allison Semmes on espionage for the French Resistance against the Nazis in World War II.
After the war, Baker returned to her career in entertainment. She continued to perform in Europe and the United States, and she also starred in several films.In the 1950s, Baker adopted twelve children from different countries around the world. She called her family the “Rainbow Tribe,” and she believed that it was important to teach children about tolerance and acceptance. In the 1960s, Baker became involved in the civil rights movement in the United States. She marched with Martin Luther King Jr., and she was a strong supporter of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Baker died in Paris in 1975 at the age of 68. She was a pioneer in the entertainment industry, and she was a courageous advocate for racial equality. She is remembered as an icon of the 20th
Additional Important Achievements:
- Josephine Baker was the first African American woman to star in a major motion picture.
- She was also the first African American woman to perform at Carnegie Hall.
- Baker was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her work during World War II.
- She was also a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
- Josephine Baker is buried in the Panthéon in Paris.
The Musical about The Comedian Harmonists
In Harmony: A New Musical, Allison Semmes plays Josephine Baker.
The complete Broadway cast includes Chip Zien as Rabbi, Sierra Boggess as Mary, Julie Benko as Ruth, Sean Bell, Danny Kornfeld, Zal Owen, Eric Peters, Blake Roman, and Steven Telsey as the Comedian Harmonists, Allison Semmes as Josephine Baker, Andrew O’Shanick as Standartenfϋhrer, Zak Edwards, Dan Hoy, Bruce Landry, Rhonni Rose Mantilla, Daniel Z. Miller, Benjamin H. Moore, Matthew Mucha, Constantine Pappas, Kayleen Seidl, Kyla Stone, Bronwyn Tarboton, Kate Wesler, Stuart Zagnit, and Lee Zarrett.
To learn more about Harmony: A New Musical, click here.