Josephine Baker was born Freda Josephine Carson in St. Louis, Missouri, on June
3, 1906 to washerwoman, Carrie McDonald, and vaudeville drummer, Eddie Carson.
Josephine's father abandoned them shortly after her birth and her mother married a kind
but perpetually unemployed man named Arthur Martin. Their family came to include a
son and two more daughters. Josephine grew up cleaning houses and babysitting for
wealthy white families until she got a job waitressing at The Old Chauffeur's Club when
she was 13-years-old. While working there she met a man named Willie Wells whom
she had a short marriage with. Josephine never depended on a man for financial support
and she never hesitated to leave when a relationship hit its breaking point. Which is why
she was married and divorced three more times to an American named Willie Baker in
1921 (whose last name she chose to keep), a Frenchman ,Jean Lion, in 1937 (from whom
she attained French citizenship) and a French orchestra leader, Jo Bouillon, in 1947.
Josephine toured the United States with The Jones Family Band and The Dixie Steppers
in 1919, performing various comical skits. When the troupes split, she tried to advance
as a chorus girl for The Dixie Steppers in their production "Shuffle Along". She was turned
away because she was "too skinny and too dark." Still determined as ever, she learned
the chorus line's routines while working as part of the crew. Therefore, Josephine was
the obvious replacement when one of the dancers left. Onstage she rolled her eyes and
clumsy. The audience loved her comedic touch and Josephine was a box office hit for the rest of the show's run. Josephine traveled to Paris for a new show that proved to be a turning point in her career. Josephine and dance partner Joe Alex captivated the audience with a routine that was new and exotic, and included Josephine boldly dressed in nothing but a feather skirt. Josephine worked the audience into frenzy with her uninhibited movements. She was an overnight sensation. Josephine's immense popularity afforded her a comfortable salary, which she spent mostly on clothes, jewelry and pets. She loved animals and at one time she owned a leopard, a chimpanzee, a pig, a snake, a goat, a parrot, parakeets, fish, three cats and seven dogs. When her routine with Alex got old she moved on and starred in La Folie du Jour. Her jaw-dropping performance, including a costume of only 16 bananas strung into a skirt, cemented her celebrity status. Josephine battled two other women for the title of the most photographed woman in the world, and by 1927 she earned more than any entertainer in Europe. She starred in two movies in the early 1930s and moved her family from St. Louis to Les Milandes, her estate in Castelnaud-Fayrac, France. A 1936 return to the United States to star in the Ziegfield Follies proved disastrous, despite the fact that she was a major celebrity in Europe. American audiences rejected the...