“Tall, coffee skin, ebony eyes, legs of paradise, a smile to end all smiles.”
– Pablo Picasso
Born into poverty in Missouri in 1906, Josephine Baker grew up in a world barely a step away from the days of slavery (her mother was raised by former slaves). But Josephine triumphed over poverty and racism to become an icon.
Dancing on street corners led to roles in vaudeville, and by the start of the 1920s she was a chorus girl on the New York stage, part of the glorious Harlem Renaissance. In 1924 she was the highest paid chorus girl in America, but she disliked the racism and segration prevalent at that time, and left for Paris, where her career truly took off.
Josephine loved the freedom and acceptance she found in France, and France loved her. While in America her nickname had been ‘ragamuffin’. In Paris she became an exotic beauty, known for her glamour and sexuality. But she was so much more than just a pretty face. During the second world war, she worked for the resistance. In the 1950s she supported the civil rights movement.
She spent the rest of her life in France, dying there in the mid 1970s, having achieved the headiest heights of fame and fortune.
You can find out more about this fascinating woman on Wikipedia and at her official website. There are plenty of biographies of her life; perhaps the closest to her real story Josephine Baker: The Hungry Heart, written by her adopted son, Jean-Claude Baker.