June 3 - Happy Birthday, Josephine Baker

Posted on June 3, 2018

Josephine Baker became famous all around the world for her live entertainment. She sang. She danced. She was comedic. She was exciting. She even sometimes appeared on stage with a live cheetah named Chiquita - and despite the fact that Chiquita was a pet and wore a grand diamond collar, she WAS a cheetah, and when she escaped into the orchestra pit (which happened more than once), the musicians were TERRIFIED - but that just made the show that much more exciting!

Baker was born in the U.S. on this date in 1906, but the U.S. was plagued with so much racism, especially toward black people like her, that she ended up moving to Paris, France, and she loved her adopted country and became a citizen.

There are many aspects of Baker's life that are fascinating. One of the most interesting things about her is that she worked to resist the Nazis during World War II. Because she was famous and charming, and because she was an entertainer who always traveled around Europe and the world, she was able to collect lots of information and also carry information to others. For example, she was able to go to parties with Nazi bigwigs, where she also met high-ranking Japanese and Italian officials, and she could gather info for the French Resistance without being suspected. She also carried information about airfields, harbors, and German troop concentration to England. 

Baker carried notes written in invisible ink on her sheet music. In her home (which actually was a castle) in the south of France, she housed people working on the Free French effort, and she got visas for them as well. She even traveled in North Africa in order to enjoy the dry climate while recovering from pneumonia...only it was REALLY to keep helping the French resistance. From a base in Morocco, she made tours of Spain (parts of Africa are surprisingly close to parts of Spain!) She pinned notes with the information she gathered on the inside of her underwear, and indeed nobody suspected and subjected her to a close enough search to discover what she was up to.

After the war, Baker received two French medals for her courageous work on behalf of the French Resistance.

Here is another aspect of Baker's life that is super interesting:

She worked on the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. even though she lived in France!

Being famous around the world, especially after her heroics during World War II, many venues in the U.S. wanted to book her as an entertainer. But Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences. Because of this, some venues ended up having integrated audiences just for her one show, but she ended up basically bringing integration to show audiences in Las Vegas and some other places. 

Baker gave speeches and worked with the NAACP and participated in Martin Luther King, Jr.,'s March on Washington as the only official female speaker. 

Here is another fascinating bit about Baker:

She was not able to have kids of her own (she tried), but she adopted twelve kids.

You didn't read that wrong: 12! 

She called her kids "The Rainbow Tribe," and she was out to prove that people from different races, religions, and ethnicities could live with one another, call each other brother and sister, love one another. I'm not sure how well her experiment worked - it would probably have been better had she tried to consider her kids' actual needs more than her grand idea of proving something to the world - but she ended up adopting kids from four different continents: Asia (Japan, Korea), South America (Colombia, Venezuela), Africa (Algeria, Ivory Coast, Morocco), and Europe Finland and four from France.

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