THE EARLY YEARS
Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 3, 1906. Her mother, Carrie MacDonald, hoped to be a music hall dancer but was forced to make a living as a laundress. Eddie Carson, her father, was a drummer for vaudeville shows and was not seen much by his daughter. At the age of eight Josephine was hired out to a white woman as a maid. At the age of ten she returned to school. Josephine witnessed the cruel East St. Louis race riot of 1917. She left the St. Louis area three years later.
BECOMING JOSEPHINE BAKER
The economic growth after the first World War and a great step in development of media gave people opportunities to absorb new cultures from televisions, radio and theatres. It also helped pop cultures quickly spread and develop in the U.S. From watching the dancers in a local vaudeville house, at age sixteen Josephine "graduated" to dancing in a touring show based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where her grandmother lived. She had already been married twice: to Willie Wells (for a few weeks in 1919), and to Will Baker (for a short time in 1921). She took her second husband's name as her own—Josephine Baker.
Baker's street-corner dancing attracted attention, gave her chance to be recruited for the St. Louis Chorus vaudeville show at the age of 15. In August 1922 Baker joined the chorus line of the touring show Shuffle Along in Boston, Massachusetts. Afterwards Baker was in New York City for the Chocolate Dandies at the Cotton Club and the floorshow at the Plantation Club in Harlem. She drew the attention of the audience by clowning, mugging, and improvising. With her long legs, slim figure, and comic presence, her special style as an entertainer began to take shape.
If people know Ms. Baker for anything in the 1920s, it's for the perfect way she did the Charleston Dance. By 1924 Josephine Baker was earning $125 a week and was the highest paid chorus girl in the world. However, she disliked living in segregated America with it's bigoted and racist attitudes. In 1925, her fortunes changed when she found true opportunity to express herself in her exaggerated and erotic dance since the was no segregation in France, such an experience which she would never have in the U.S. This was the pivotal turn in her career.
FROM AN ENTERTAINER TO AN ACTIVIST
Becoming a citizen of France does not mean that she turned her back on the U.S. After fighting for herself, she began to fight for others. In Harlem Renaissance, the movement of literature, music, art and theater associated with the African-American community rose in the years between 1919 and 1930, Baker was one of the well known entertainers who brought the black cultures to the stages in New York and the rest of the US. She strongly believed that with music, she would perform to inspire other people in color to stand up and raise the voices for their rights.
Music was one of the tools that helped people represent their morale, also reflected the spirit of the decade. In this times, people quickly and excitedly absorbed new cultures, broke of the traditions, and specially desired to express themselves in the music. So did Baker, she expressed her belief that blacks had the rights to also perform in high class theatres through her performance with the Jazz music. Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences in the United States, although she was offered $10,000 by a Miami club. Her insistence on mixed audiences helped to integrate live entertainment shows in Las Vegas, Nevada.
During her lifetime, she has left many great contributions to the world.