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French Spy, famed performer, Josephine Baker defied societal expectations

With her comedic style, bawdy charm, this American turned French citizen served both countries

March 7, 2017

Exotic beauty, no-holds-barred dancer, famed singer, and French Residence Spy; Josephine Baker went from humble beginnings to sophisticated prowess. Baker grew up in St. Louis, Missouri as Freda Josephine McDonald in 1906. She took the name Baker after one of her divorcés, Willie Baker, but had multiple divorces with many men before and after Willie Baker. The only thing Josephine Baker who take from her husbands would be her French citizenship from Frenchman Jean Lion in 1937, and one marriage to French orchestra leader Jo Bouillon in 1947, who helped her raise 12 adopted children.

But Baker never depended on a man for financial support, her early life from the age of 13 ranged from her waiting tables, babysitting, and eventually, a performer. Her career in entertainment started slow, but soon skyrocketed with her comedic style and risqué wardrobe. When World War 2 began, Baker served the rebellious groups of France, whom were resisting the German occupation. Baker would perform for the troops, and served as a correspondent for the French Resistance by smuggling in secret messages written on her music sheets. Baker would later also serve as a sub-lieutenant in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

After the War, Baker was awarded the Medal of the Resistance with Rosette, and was name Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government for hard work and dedication. Baker returned to the United States in the 1950s, and began to fight segregation and become a powerful voice in the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1975, a 68 year old Baker performed one last routine in Paris, concluding her 50 year career. Days later, Baker slipped into a coma, and passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage.

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