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meet josephine

born freda josephine mcdonald on june 3, 1906, in st. louis, missouri

josephine took up dancing at a very young age, honing her skills both in clubs and in street performances, and by 1919 she was touring the u.s.

in 1925, at the peak of france’s obsession with american jazz, baker became the star of la revue nègre at the théâtre des champs-elysées  

it was 1926 where her career skyrocketed

in a performance called la folie du jour, baker performed her famed banana dance which was wildly popular with parisian audiences, including cultural figures like pablo picasso and ernest hemingway

following her film roles in as a singer in zou-zou and princesse tam-tam, baker purchased an estate in france, naming it les milandes

in 1936, baker returned to the u.s. to perform in the ziegfeld follies, however, she was met immense racism and returned to france

when wwII erupted, baker worked for the french resistance, at times smuggling messages hidden in her sheet music

for these efforts, baker was awarded with france’s highest military honors, the croix de guerre and the legion of honour with the rosette of the resistance

following the war, baker adopted 12 children from around the world, creating her “rainbow tribe” to demonstrate that people of different races could live harmoniously

during the 1950s, baker frequently returned to the u.s. to support the civil rights movement

in 1963, baker participated in the march on washington alongside martin luther king, jr

after decades of rejection in the u.s., baker returned to perform at carnegie hall in 1973, greeted with a standing ovation

in april 1975, baker performed at the bobino theater in paris, celebrating the 50th anniversary of her paris debut, and just days later passed away in her sleep

on the day of her first funeral, more than 20,000 people lined the streets of paris to witness the procession, and the french government honored her with a 21-gun salute, making baker the first american woman in history to receive french military honors

at her second in 2019, baker became the first entertainer, the first black woman, and the first american born person to be reinterred at the pantheon monument in paris


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