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Josephine Baker Was Born Today… Watch “Josephine Baker – the First Black Superstar” Now!

Josephine Baker Was Born Today... Watch "Josephine Baker - the First Black Superstar" Now!

Today in historyJune 3rd1906… dancer, singer and actress Freda Josephine McDonald (aka Josephine Baker), who gained fame in ParisFrance, thanks to her risque cabaret and musical hall performances, was born in St. LouisMissouri.

While Ms Baker did perform on screen in a number of films – Siren of the Tropics (1927), Zouzou (1934) and Princesse Tam Tam (1935), notably – she’s probably more universally recognized for her vaudeville stage musical acts which helped her become maybe the first international black female celebrity.

She was also politically active, making contributions to the Civil Rights Movement here in the United States, and assisted the French Resistance during World War II, becoming the first American-born woman to receive the French military honor, the Croix de guerre.

She died on April 12th1975 at age 68.

Since then, there’s really been only 1 true attempt to tell her story in a scripted biopic – the 1991HBO movie, The Josephine Baker Story, which starred Lynn Whitfield as Baker. Whitfield would go on to win an Emmy Award for her performance!

HBO Home Entertainment released the film on Blu-ray in January of this year.

Louis Gossett Jr., and Ruben Blades co-starred.

In the documentary category, check out Josephine Baker: Black Diva in White Man’s World, a 45-minute doc released by Artmattan, which:

… focuses on her life and work from a perspective that analyses images of Black people in popular culture. It portrays the artist in the mirror of European colonial clichés and presents her as a resistance fighter, an ambulance driver during WWII, and an outspoken activist against racial discrimination involved in the worldwide Black Consciousness movement of the 20th century.

The film was screened last night actually, in New York, presented by the African Diaspora International Film Festival (ADIFF). You can also pick up a copy on Artmattan’s website HERE.

And lastly, there was this 2009 BBC-produced hour-long documentary titled Josephine Baker – the First Black Superstar, which takes a look at the life of Baker. I found the entire documentary on YouTube, which is embedded below, so watch it now:

This Article is related to: Features


Warrington Hudlin

Correction: This article and others many others incorrectly identifies Josephine Baker's birthplace as St. Louis, Missouri, but she is actually from my home town of East Louis, Illinois (see below)

Josephine Baker was born in a poor, black slum in East St. Louis, Illinois, on June 3, 1906, to 21 year-old Carrie MacDonald. Her mother hoped to be a music hall dancer; meanwhile, she was forced to take in laundry. She was of mixed ethnic background: Indian/Negro (as they would say in 1906) or Native American/African American (as we would say today). She descended from Apalachee Indians and black slaves in South Carolina. Olive-skinned Eddie Carson, her father, was a vaudeville drummer and was not seen much by his daughter.

At the age of eight Josephine was hired out to a white woman as a maid; she was forced to sleep in the coal cellar with a pet dog and was scalded on the hands when she used too much soap in the laundry. At the age of ten she returned, thankfully, to school. "There is no Santa Claus," she said. "I'm Santa Claus." Josephine witnessed the cruel East St. Louis race riot of 1917. She moved from the St. Louis area at the age of 13 and emigrated out of the United States at 19. "That such a childhood produced an expatriate is not surprising," Phyllis Rose, one of her biographers, commented.

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