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 led to the development of media, and gave people opportunities to experience new cultures from televisions, radio and theatres. It also helped pop cultures quickly spread and develop in the U.S. She started learning how to dance by watching the dancers in a local vaudeville house. At the age of sixteen, Josephine became a professional dancers and had a part in a touring show, which was based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 a 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 floor show at the Plantation Club in Harlem. She drew the attention of the audience by clowning, mugging, and improvising. She attracted her audiences with her long legs, slim figure, and impressive style. As a result, her career as an entertainer flourished.
In the 1920's, Ms. Baker was well known 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, an opportunity to express herself came to Baker when she visited France. There, she was free to perform the exaggerated and erotic dance without racial judgement.
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 famous 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, which also reflected the spirit of the decade. In the 1920's, people quickly and excitedly experienced new cultures, broke away from traditions, and specially desired to express themselves in the music. Baker was not an exception. She expressed her belief that blacks had the rights to also perform in high class theaters through her performance with the Jazz music. 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.