Probably the first Western, black mega-star, Josephine Baker was literally larger than life. Few if any women could move like her when it came to dancing and her perseverance trail-blazed a path that many women of color could follow in years after her death. Due to the United State being a racist environment of stagnancy for a future actress/singer, Josephine Baker fled to France in order to let her star shine. During the days of immense hardship for women like Josephine, France was a source of refuge for celebrities of color. Given the nickname of “Bronze Venus” by admirers worldwide, Josephine’s voice and dancing made her beloved to her French countrymen and eventually she revisited the United States as a star. Later on in life as an older woman, Josephine Baker was a fighter for Civil Rights, turning down the honor of leading the movement after the passing of Martin Luther King.
Born Freda Josephine McDonald in 1906, Josephine Baker grew up on the streets of St. Louis, MO after dropping out of school at the age of 12. Making a living by dancing on street corners, she attracted enough attention to be recruited to the St. Louis Vaudeville show which took her to New York City during the Harlem Renaissance. It was here that she began to make a name for herself, eventually becoming the highest paid chorus girl in Vaudeville.
In 1925, known as the “The Black Pearl”, Josephine opened in Paris and became a huge success for her practically nude performances. She starred at the Folies Bergères performing the famous Danse sauvage where she wore only a skirt made of bananas on a string. By 1937, she became a citizen of France and became known as “La Baker” to the French. Her beautiful voice, stellar performances on stage, and successful European films allowed her to become an inspiration and muse to painters, designers, and authors, including Christian Dior, Pablo Picasso, and Ernest Hemmingway.
A beautiful star that shone brightly, trailblazing a path for future Josephines and entertaining those who loved her and those who would limit her. Josephine Baker passed out in 1968 atop her bed amidst magazine and newspaper reviews praising her final performance. It cannot be argued that Josephine was truly a Hottie of History.
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