Josephine Baker is best remembered for dancing topless and wearing a banana skirt. Baker’s popularity rose during the 1920s for dancing in Paris. Yet until her death in 1975, Baker was devoted to fighting against injustice and racism throughout the world.
Josephine Baker was born Freda Josephine McDonald on June 3, 1906. Her mother, Carrie McDonald, was a washerwoman and her father, Eddie Carson was a vaudeville durmmer.
The family lived in St. Louis before Carson left to pursue his dreams as a performer.
By the age of eight, Baker was working as a domestic for rich white families. At the age of 13, she ran away and worked as a waitress.
Timeline of Baker’s Work as a Performer
1919: Baker begins touring with the Jones Family Band as well as the Dixie Steppers. Baker performed comedic skits and danced.
1923: Baker lands a role in the Broadway musical Shuffle Along. Performing as a member of the chorus, Baker added her comedic persona, making her popular with audiences.
Baker moves to New York City. She is soon performing in Chocolate Dandies. She also performs with Ethel Waters at the Plantation Club.
1925 to 1930: Baker travels to Paris and performs in La Revue Nègre at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. French audiences were impressed with Baker’s performance—especially Danse Sauvage, in which she wore only a feather skirt.
1926: Baker’s career hits its peak. Performing at Folies Bergère music hall, in a set called La Folie du Jour, Baker danced topless, wearing a skirt made of bananas. The show was successful and Baker became one of the most popular and highest-paid performers in Europe. Writers and artists such as Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and E.
E. Cummings were fans. Baker also was nicknamed “Black Venus” and “Black Pearl.”
1930s: Baker begins singing and recording professional. She also plays the lead in several films including Zou-Zou andPrincesse Tam-Tam.
1936: Baker returned to the United States and performed. She was met with hostility and racism by audiences. She returned to France