Baker, Josephine

Alternative names
Birth 1906-06-03
Death 1975-04-12
French, Portuguese, English, Spanish; Castilian, Japanese

Biographical notes:

Josephine Baker was a dancer, singer, and civil rights activist. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a musician, and Carrie Macdonald. Her parents parted when Josephine was still an infant, and her mother married Arthur Martin, which has led to some confusion about her maiden name. Very llittle is known about her childhood, except that she was a witness to the East St. Louis riot in 1917. This event was often a feature of her talks in the 1950s and 1960s about racism and the fight for equality., which fostered the oft-repeated assertion that the family was resident in East St. Louis. Before the age of eighteen Josephine had been married twice, first to Willie Well and then to William Baker, to whom she was married in Camden, New Jersey, in September 1921. Josephine Baker - American National Biography Online (Retrieved August 17, 2009)

From the description of Josephine Baker photographs, ca. 1925-1975. (University of Georgia). WorldCat record id: 430822886

Josephine Baker (1906-1975), African American performer, dancer, and silent film star. Born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, she performed in Paris, New York, Africa, and the Middle East, and was a crusader for racial equality.

From the description of Josephine Baker collection. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79463198

Josephine Baker (1906-1975), dancer, singer, and humanitarian was born in the United States, but achieved fame as a performer in France before dedicating her life to human rights causes.

From the description of Henry Hurford Janes-Josephine Baker collection, 1926-1986. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702132889

Born in 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri, Josephine Baker achieved fame in Paris in the 1920s. In the 1950s, she sought to promote racial equality by adopting twelve children of various races and nationalities to create what she called a "rainbow family." Miki Sawada was the founder and director of the Elizabeth Sanders Home in Tokyo for ostracized mixed-race children fathered by U.S. servicemen with Japanese women. She and Baker had become friends in the 1930s in Paris, where her husband, Renzo Sawada, was stationed as a diplomat.

From the description of Josephine Baker collection, 1933-1975. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 244205486

Actress, dancer and entertainer.

From the description of Typewritten letter signed : Les Milandes, to Monsieur Tino Davini, 1965 Feb. 24. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270904403

Josephine Baker was an American singer, dancer, and actress, who became a citizen of France in 1937.

From the guide to the Josephine Baker papers, 1967-1975., (Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University)

Henry Hurford Janes (known as Harry) was born in 1909 in Chelsea, England. Initially trained to be a private secretary, his penchant for writing was encouraged by the publication of his first article at the age of 20 which launched his career as a writer. In 1939, Janes joined the British Expeditionary Force as a private and was eventually promoted to be the personal assistant to the director of National Service Entertainment, Basil Dean. ENSA, the Entertainments National Service Association, which provided entertainment for British troops, similar to the American USO, took Janes to a number of battlefield locations.

He met Josephine Baker in 1943 in Algiers where, despite rumors about her demise, she was performing for Allied soldiers in Northern Africa. Janes began a long-lasting acquaintance with Miss Baker and began to negotiate for her to come to England for a performance for British troops. After two years of planning, the Gala Variety Concert featuring Baker and Noel Coward took place May 14, 1945 at the Cambridge Theatre in London.

After World War II, Janes took a position as secretary to a Member of Parliament, but soon left to pursue a full-time career as a freelance writer. He produced articles (for such publications as the Evening News ) and short stories as well as plays. His Lady Must Sell debuted in 1948, followed by Under the Skin in 1953 and various scripts for BBC and ITV. He married his wife, Peggy, in 1954.

During the following decades, he specialized in commissioned industrial biographies and booklets on historical events. His friendship with Josephine Baker resumed during the late 1960s when Miss Baker began to tour again after a period of semi-retirement. Baker christened Janes and his wife the English "godparents" of her 12 adopted children. The Janeses quickly began to fulfill these roles by hosting many of Baker's children during summer vacations in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The youngest child, Stellina, was in the care of Harry and Peggy Janes, attending a convent school, when Baker died in April, 1975. Harry Janes initially questioned who should have custody over the young girl he and his wife had grown fond of, but soon deferred to Stellina's adoptive father, Jo Bouillon.

In the early 1970s, Harry Janes had started to gather notes about Joephine Baker's life and his interactions with her in preparation for a biography. He wrote several short biographical sketches, but a complete book was never published.

Josephine Baker was born on June 6, 1906 in East St. Louis, Missouri. Around the age of 13, she began dancing as a chorus girl in an all-black revue that toured the United States. At 16, she landed a prominent role in Shuffle Along, the first black musical to play on Broadway. Her cross-eyed, comic performances along with her naturally graceful dancing caught the eye of a scout who was organizing a black revue to open in Paris.

Even before La Revue Nègre opened at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Parisians were entranced by the image of Josephine Baker on posters that advertised the show. Her "Dance of the Savages," a feral duet she performed wearing only a handful of pink feathers, caused an uproar that signaled the ascension of a new cabaret star in Paris. Baker was swept up in the adoration of the Lost Generation that inhabited the city. She posed for Picasso, was photographed by Man Ray, and was sculpted by Alexander Calder. She soon established residence in Paris and in 1926 starred in the Folies-Bergère, performing her famous banana dance. As her fame grew, Baker branched out into a wider realm of performance. She learned to sing and made the film La Sirène des Tropiques in 1927. More successful films, Zou-Zou and Princess Tam-Tam, followed in the 1930s.

The accounts of Baker's marriages before she achieved stardom are sketchy, at best. Her liaisons in Paris are more accurately chronicled. She was engaged to Pepito Abitano during the late 1920s and early 1930s when she toured Europe and eventually the United States. She was performing in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 when Abitano died. After her return to Paris, she married sugar broker Jean Lion. The marriage soon ended in divorce and Baker began to devote her energies to the war effort. In the 1940s, besides entertaining French troops, Baker did secret intelligence work for France, earning the rank of lieutenant in the Women's Auxiliary of the Free French Air Force.

Baker returned to the stage at the end of the war, touring with orchestra leader Jo Bouillon, who would become her husband in 1947. During this period of her life, Baker's stage career would become subordinate to her most intimate of projects, her family. Unable to bear children, she adopted a total of 12 children over a period of 12 years. This "Rainbow Tribe," as she called them, came from 9 different countries, most from impoverished backgrounds. The family lived at "Les Milandes," a country estate in the Dordogne in southern France that Josephine transformed into a center for tourism, complete with a cabaret and "Le Jorama," a museum of Josephine Baker memorabilia.

After her separation from Jo Bouillon in 1960, Baker's dream of a tranquil retirement began to fall apart. She grew increasingly in debt, eventually losing her beloved Milandes estate to creditors in 1967. She was rescued by her friend Princess Grace of Monaco, who offered a government property in nearby Roquebrune-Cap-Martin for Baker to raise her children. However, Baker needed to satisfy other debts, which led her back to the stage. The early 1970s saw a renewed interest in her performance and a personal revitalization for Baker. Her last great triumph was in early April 1975 when she appeared at the Bobino Theater in a 50-year retrospective of her career. It was here, in Paris, that she died on April 12, 1975, having suffered a cerebral hemorrhage after falling asleep in her bedroom, newspapers praising her comeback scattered around her.

From the guide to the Henry Hurford Janes-Josephine Baker collection, 1926-1986, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)


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  • Dancers
  • African American singers--Photographs
  • Dancers--Biography
  • Orchestra--Photographs
  • Entertainers
  • African American entertainers--Biography
  • African American entertainers--Photographs
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  • Harlem Renaissance
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  • Intercountry adoption
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  • France (as recorded)
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