#QueerHeroes Day 3 – Josephine Baker
Josephine Baker was born 114 years ago today. She died at 68 years old, but had dozens of lifetimes’ worth of experiences.
After becoming a breakout Vaudeville star in her teenage years, Baker appeared in Shuffle Along—a hugely successful 1921 Broadway musical starring and written by Black Americans. Baker became a figurehead of the Harlem Renaissance and one of the highest paid chorus members on Broadway. She also had a relationship with the Blues singer Clara Smith—who was dubbed “the queen of the moaners” for her voice.
Exhausted with America, Josephine moved to Paris where her star skyrocketed. She had successful European tours and danced in the Folies Bergère. On tours, her performances were so controversial that at one point a church across the street blared its bells in hopes of distracting from it.
It was during her early years in Paris that she mastered her singing talent, and her voice soon became as hypnotic as her dancing.
Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” She bought Marie Antoinette’s actual bed. She owned a cheetah which she adorned with a diamond collar.
Then World War II hit, but Baker refused to leave Paris. Instead she became a spy for the French resistance. YEAH.
She used her famous charm to collect information from German, Japanese, and Italian officials during parties at various embassies, never raising suspicion.
When the Germans ultimately invaded Paris, she left the city but continued to house and obtain visas for members of the French resistance in her new residence.
Y’all, she still wasn’t even done.
In the 1950s, she focused her efforts on the Civil Rights Movement. Though still based in France, she began touring the American south. She refused to appear in front of segregated audiences.
Her work continued with the NAACP, and she would be the only official woman speaker at the March on Washington, where she said:
“I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad. And when I get mad, you know that I open my big mouth.”
Josephine Baker died in 1975, and the world is an infinitely better place because she opened her “big mouth.”
This bio doesn’t do her storied life justice, so you should absolutely research it deeper to learn how not to waste a second of life and what it means to work towards justice even when it comes with risking your life and career.