Josephine Baker’s 111th birthday is being celebrated today by Google in the form of a Google Doodle. Visitors to Google’s homepage might be asking themselves, who was Josephine Baker and how she become one of the first African-American artists and Civil Rights Movement activists, who dedicated her life to bring a significant change in the society?
Born as Freda Josephine McDonald, Josephine Baker was a French vedette singer and entertainer, whose career was centered primarily in Europe, and mostly in France. She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, in the early 1900’s and began dancing and singing with the Jones Family Band and Dixie Steppers.
At the age of 13, Josephine started working as a waitress at the Old Chauffeur’s Club at 3133 Pine Street. She also lived as a street child in the slums of St. Louis, sleeping in cardboard shelters, scavenging for food in garbage cans, making a living with street-corner dancing. Baker made her way to the New York City and joined the chorus of the musical Shuffle Along. However, the worldwide recognition she got was from her visit to Paris, where she finally became a jazz icon and found her new true home.
As the star of the musical show La Revue Nègre, Josephine Baker became famous for appearing on stage wearing a banana skirt and little else.
According to the book Josephine: The Hungry Heart written by her foster son Jean-Claude Baker, in later shows in Paris, she was often spotted on stage with her pet cheetah, who was jeweled with a diamond collar. After a few stunts and her exotic dance steps, she became the most successful American entertainer working in France. Ernest Hemingway once called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”
Aside from her exotic costumes that once became the talk of the town, she is being celebrated today by Google for her work towards female liberation and her extensive work during World War II.
When France declared war on Germany in September 1939, Josephine Baker was recruited by the Deuxième Bureau — French military intelligence — as an “honorable correspondent.” Given her position as an entertainer, she was invited to attend parties, during which she gathered information at the Italian embassy without raising any suspicions on her part.
After the war, she was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French military and was named a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur by General Charles de Gaulle.
Over the years, this jazz icon has been compared to Beyoncé for her stunning physique as well as Angelina Jolie for her many adoptions from around the world, both of whom she predates.
Josephine Baker started supporting the Civil Rights Movement during 1950. According to Rose Phyllis’ Jazz Cleopatra: Josephine Baker in Her Time, when she arrived in New York along with her husband Jo, they were refused reservations at 36 hotels because of her ethnicity.
By this racial discrimination, she was so upset that she wrote articles about the segregation in the United States. She even refused to perform for segregated audiences in the United States, although she was offered $10,000 by a Miami club.
Not only this, while working with the Civil Rights Movement, she began adopting children, whom she often referred to as her “rainbow tribe.”
Just like this, Josephine Baker tried to bring changes to society.
“It’s almost impossible, to sum up such a multi-faceted figure, which is why today’s Doodle is in a slideshow format highlighting several of Baker’s most impactful accomplishments,” Doodle designer Lydia Nichols told Refinery29. “The bold, limited palette and simple aesthetic were influenced by poster art of the 1920s and 30s when Baker broke onto the scene.”
[Featured Image by AP Images]