Who was She?
Often called the first Black superstar, Josephine Baker was a singer, actress, dancer, and performer who toured internationally throughout the 1920s and 1930s. She became known around the world for her beauty, her singing voice, and her dancing.
What did She do?
Baker’s 1927 Un Vent de Folie performance in Paris -- in which she wore just a banana skirt -- made her an icon of the Jazz Age. She used her international fame to become a well known activist for racial and gender equality. In 1934, she became the first person of color to star in a major motion film with her role in Zouzou. Throughout her career she refused to perform in segregated venues in the United States. the 1940s, Baker served as an aid for the French Resistance during World War II. Because of her popularity in Europe, she was able to easily travel across borders and bring back messages of what the Germans were planning. For this work, she earned the rank of sub-lieutenant and was awarded the French Cross for heroism.
In her personal life, Baker worked to break stereotypes and racial segregation. She adopted 12 children and referred to her family as “The Rainbow Tribe.” She said she wanted to show the world how “children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers.”
Why does She matter?
Baker’s amazing performance skill and strong activism was an inspiration for people around the world to fight against segregation in the entertainment industry and beyond. She remains a social justice legend and is often referenced as a role model for many pop icons today.