Baker, Josephine, 1906-1975
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The dancer, actress, and activist Josephine Baker was born on June 3, 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri. At the age of 18, she left America and her turbulent childhood behind for Europe. She settled in Paris, quickly becoming the toast of the town after starring in "La Revue Nègre." After a year starring in the revue, Baker became a headline attraction at the Follies Bergère. It was at this famous club that Baker debuted her now-famous banana skirt. Thanks to her success in Paris, Baker was able to perform throughout Europe. The entertainer continued to perform in Parisian revues throughout the 1920s and 1930s. During this time, Baker began acting in movies, becoming one of the first black woman to star in a major motion picture. Her first speaking role was in 1934's Zouzou. In 1936, Baker returned to the U.S. and performed on Broadway in the "Ziegfeld Follies." After appearing on the New York stage, she traveled the U.S. in her own show. Baker returned to Paris, however, and became a French citizen in 1937. During WWII, Baker worked as an intelligence agent, ambulance driver, and entertainer for French troops in North Africa. She was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her service. In the 1950s, Baker began adopting children of different backgrounds. Her and her "rainbow tribe," as she referred to them, lived in Southwestern France. In 1958, she returned to the Parisian stage in an auto-biographical show titled "Paris Mes Amours." Josephine Baker died on April 12, 1975 at the age of 68. Her legacy lives on to this day. Many contemporary fashion designers name her as inspiration for their collections.
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