Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker
dancer, theater performer, writer, and civil rights activist. Although she spent most of her adult life living in France and touring the world, Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri. After a difficult childhood, she left home at thirteen, starting her dance career with a vaudeville troupe called the Dixie Steppers. In the early 1920s, she worked in African American theater productions in New York such as Shuffle Along and Chocolate Dandies. In 1925 Baker left for Paris to begin her long international career with companies like Revue Nègre, Folies Bergères, and, later, the Ziegfeld Follies.

As her career evolved, Baker increasingly focused on political concerns. During World War II Baker toured North Africa while providing information to French and British intelligence. Later she used her considerable fame to advance civil rights issues during her frequent visits to the United States. In 1951 the NAACP honored her political work by declaring an official Baker Day in Harlem. Baker is also remembered for her advocacy of racial reconciliation: she adopted children of varied races and nationalities and worked throughout her life to promote racial and national cooperation.

Baker's autobiography Josephine (1976; trans. to English in 1977), posthumously compiled and coau-thored by her estranged husband Jo Bouillon, consists of sections authored by Baker herself intermixed with commentary by Bouillon, numerous friends, professional associates, and several of her adult children. The result is a book at moments autobiographical, but strongly biographical. Her life story is essentially framed by Bouillon's editing, leaving inevitable questions as to the narrative structure that may have emerged in an autobiography completed by Baker herself. Four other volumes, all written in French, also carry some autobiographical interest because of Baker's collaborative involvement: Les Mémoires de Joséphine Baker (1927) and Voyages et aventures de Joséphine Baker (1931), both authored by Marcel Sauvage; Joséphine Baker: Une Vie de toutes les coueurs (1935), by André Rivollet; and La Guerre secrète de Joséphine Baker (1948), by Jacques Abtey. Baker also helped plan a novel dealing with racial themes, which was eventually authored by Giuseppe (Pepito) Abatino and Félix del la Camara, entitled Mon Sang dans tes veines (My Blood in Your Veins, 1931).