By: Taren Vaughan
Decades ago, it was very unlikely for us to see an African American on the big screen. It was even more uncommon to see an African American woman featured in movies. Against all odds, one woman not only took the stage in American films. But she managed to make her name known internationally as well. She is none other than the late Josephine Baker.
Born on June 3, 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri, Josephine Baker’s journey to stardom was anything but easy. She dropped out of school at the young age of 12 and became a child of the streets. Living in shelters and sleeping in cardboard boxes, Baker found a way to survive on her own. While living on the streets, she began dancing on corners which landed her a gig with the St. Louis chorus. Little did she know that that was the break that would change her life forever. Ms. Baker’s career officially began once she relocated to New York City. There she performed in a number of Broadway shows including “Shuffle Along” and “The Chocolate Dandies”. Although she found success in the U.S., Josephine Baker did not reach the peak of her career until she headed to Paris. Known to the French as “La Baker”, she became the first African American woman to headline an international movie (“La Sirene des tropiques”). Upon her death, Baker became the first woman of color to be buried with full French military honors.
Josephine Baker has been said to be the influence of greats like Tina Turner, Diana Ross and Beyonce’ Knowles. Her exotic style of dress and striking stage presence made her one of the most influential black female entertainers of all time. She has paved the way for not only black women but for all African Americans in the industry. Her incredible journey and legacy will forever be remembered.