When it came to breaking boundaries, Josephine Baker is one of the best. She was the first black actress to star in a major motion picture, the first to racially integrate a formerly segregated concert hall, and one of the first black American women to achieve true international stardom. She also served the French Resistance by spying amongst the echelons of cafe society, assisting with false passports for those fleeing the Nazis and sheltering Belgian refugees, earning the French military Croix de guerre award for her efforts. In later life she became a major figurehead in the American civil rights movement by refusing to perform for segregated audiences, forcing influential Las Vegas theatres to racially integrate. She was also a speaker at Martin Luther King Jr’s March on Washington, then (and still) one of the largest rallies for human rights ever seen in the United States.
Josephine was also a straight-up sexpot, wowing crowds at the Folies Bergère with her iconic ‘Banana Dance’, a cheeky hip shakin’ dance performed in little more than a diamante-stuffed banana skirt and a smile. She left America because of racial subjugation and found crowds in Europe who loved her for who she was and what she did, and became a titan of entertainment and a muse to everyone from Christian Dior to Hemingway; a magnificent spitfire of a woman who entertained all the way until her death in 1975.
Josephine Baker is the epitome of style and substance, sexiness and smarts, humanity and humanitarianism. She’s one of my all time style icons.