Burlesque History

Josephine Baker

Today I’d like to tell you about Josephine Baker. She’s certainly a very interesting woman, the more I found out the harder it got to put this into one blog post.

Josephine was born in Missouri in June 1906 and quickly flew to the stage at age 15 after being recruited by the St Louis Charles Vaudeville Show.

After a short while she became known as the ‘Black Pearl’ and ‘Bronze Venus’ and her famous banana act became synonymous with the 20’s jazz age.

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She mainly performed in Europe, but mostly in France. In the 1930’s she renounced her US citizenship and became a French national.

In Paris, Josephine started headlining at the Follies Bergére and was billed as the highest paid chorus girl in vaudeville after performing almost nude at age 19.

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She also developed an act that included her cheetah called Chiquita, a very well looked after big cat with a dazzling diamond collar. Chiquita would occasionally jump into the audience… Well, you can imagine their reaction.

Josephine refused to perform for segregated audiences whilst on tour and in 1963 was offered unofficial leadership in the movement by Coretta Scott King.

She was the first woman of African descent to become a world famous entertainer, she starred in a few films too, one of which being ‘ZouZou’ in 1934.

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She was also very well known for helping the war effort too! (I told you she was an extraordinary woman to research) She essentially became a spy, collecting information from German generals and troops. It’s been rumoured that she used to hide secret messages in the sheet music to her acts. All of this lead to her achieving the Croix du Guerre from the French military.

Josephine Baker died aged 68 in April 1975 from a cerebral haemorrhage. Apparently she was found in a coma surrounded by glimmering reviews in newspapers of her performances, she later died in hospital soon after.

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