Josephine Baker was referred to as the ‘Black Pearl’, ‘Creole Goddess’, ‘Bronze Venus’ as well as …the most sensational woman anyone ever saw and ever will’’. Watch any of Josephine Baker’s dance/singing/acting performances and her charismatic energy can be felt emanating from the screen! One of her sons described her as ‘…[being like] the sun’ when on stage, with her bright smile and glorious expressive voice. It is no wonder this exceptional iconic woman made such an impact on our world when she inhabited it, which still ripples through life today.
Born to a black mother and white father on June 3 1906. Josephine did not have the most optimal family life as she experienced much poverty as a child, witnessed attacks on others from racist groups where she lived in St. Louis, and was subject to much abuse from those she worked for. At age 13 she had married, which only lasted briefly. However, on a positive note, she was exposed to show business quite early on as many vaudeville theatres were located in St. Louis, which planted the seed in her mind of the passion she had for the entertainment business. Generally though, there weren’t many ‘escape routes’ for those in Josephines’ situation.
So, how did our beloved goddess achieve success in her career? She had essentially ‘…danced her way out of St. Louis and took advantage of opportunities at the right time’. The common theme guiding Josephine throughout her career and life was a strict conviction of wanting to improve her circumstances and keep moving, which ultimately attracted luck or ‘divine timing’ in many of the show business ‘breaks’ she was given in her career. Following her marriage, Josephine started dancing on street corners, she then moved to Harlem on her own where she became part of the ‘Harlem Renaissance’. She secured a role in the show ‘Shuffling Along’ for a few years, where the audiences were considered ‘tough crowds’ and was fortunate to have obtained a place in the show. At the age of 19 in 1925, she was presented with an opportunity to go to France, given the reality that her career advancement was likely exhausted at this point in America, as well, with the strained relationship with her mother, Josephine decided to take the leap and sail.
‘.. I ran away, eventually I ran far away. It was a place called France…it was like a fairyland place’.
Little did Josephine know that she would soon take France by storm! There were many benefits to her drastic move to France at this time. First of all, France was not segregated between blacks and whites, thus Josephine could enjoy freedoms like she had never experienced before in America. Second of all, the French, in their Art Deco period, loved anything African or exotic. Once Josephine became a hit in the ‘Revue Negre’, she was described as the sculpture that came to life’ for the French. Her free spirited, charismatic nature via her performances heavily influenced the women of France to be more free and engage in activities outside of their comfort zone. Josephine often performed wearing very little and was constantly reinventing herself through dance. ‘I wasn’t really naked, I simply didn’t have any clothes on’. She was known for the ‘Banana Dance’ and is said to have invented hip hop, the twist and break dance, not to mention our now popular ‘twerk’ move. Josephine was admired and was the muse for many artists at that time such as Picasso and Hemmingway. Josephine became very loyal to France for the freedom and good fortune she experienced in France and probably never would have known if she had not made this move.
In addition to her career, the story of Josephine Baker’s life is rich and complex in many ways and the theme of divine timing is prevalent even in her later years. Josephine became a French Citizen. She was an informant for France during WW II and was awarded several medals for her contribution to France in many ways where she took a break from show business. She was also a Civil Rights Activist and blazed a path for blacks in general in America. She was unafraid to express her rights despite threats and was one of the prominent voices for black women at the time (as most activists at the time were black males). Her refusal to sing in Miami for segregated audiences in 1951 started a much needed precedent. She also went on to give talks at universities and wrote articles about segregation to further the cause of improving humanity. Josephine also adopted 12 children from different ethnicities and called them the Rainbow Tribe in an effort to demonstrate that children of different ‘colour’ could live together peacefully and in harmony in a castle she purchased in France. Two of these 12 children were actually rescued from being found in a potato sac in a war torn country!
If you look at the chronology of Josephine’s life, which is not all reflected here, and all that she had achieved in her short 69 years, we can all be inspired to achieve more in our lives also. The following 10 quotes will help you do just that!
1. ‘I’m not intimidated by anyone. Everyone is made with two arms, two legs, a stomach and a head. Just think about that.”
2. ‘A violinist has his violin, a painter his palette. All I had was myself. I was the instrument I must care for’
3. ‘I believe in prayer. It’s the best way we have to draw strength from heaven’
4. ‘You are on the eve of a complete victory. You can’t go wrong. The world is behind you’
5. ‘You have to grow and change all the time. When you no longer have something new to do or say, you disappear’.
6. ‘My dear, I know exactly how I’m gonna die: out of breath, exhausted at the end of a dance. And that won’t be for a long, long time’.
7. ‘I don’t lie. I improve on life’.
8. ‘Is that what they call a vocation, what you do with joy as if you had fire in your heart, the devil in your body?’
9. ‘Each time I leaped I seemed to touch the sky and when I regained earth it seemed to be mine alone’.
10. ‘I did take the blows [of life], but I took them with my chin up, in dignity, because I so profoundly love and respect humanity’.
Author: Alessandra Aversa
Alessandra Aversa has recently re-kindled her love and passion for writing while on maternity leave following the birth of her son in 2016. She is currently building up her writing profile! Check out her new website at https://alessandraaversa.wixsite.com/mysite. If you would like to contact Alessandra, her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org