How do you start an article about the inimitable Josephine Baker? She is one of my true idols and a true inspiration – and I think she could inspire you, too. While it is nearly impossible to encapsulate her fabulous persona into a short blog post, here are some bits of inspiration from the life of La Baker.
- Her achievements are vast: She is the first African-American to start in a major motion picture, the first to integrate an American concert hall and the first to become a world-famous entertainer. Not only that, but she is a noted contributor to the American Civil Rights Movement, as well as an assistant to the French Resistance during World War II. Talk about multi-faceted.
- Baker was so popular with the French that even the Nazis were reluctant to cause her harm while they occupied France during World War II. In turn, she became an “honorable correspondent” for the French military, passing along secrets as she rubbed shoulders with the likes of Japanese officials and Italian bureaucrats. She sometimes smuggled secret messages written in invisible ink on her sheet music.
- She protested in her own way against racism. She refused to play to segregated music halls, prompting integration for her sake. She also adopted twelve orphans (Angelina, eat your heart out!) from various countries around the world
As a young black woman, to me, she redefines what it is to be a black beauty in an early era where faces like mine were notably missing. She partially embodies one of my favorite eras of history, the Harlem Renaissance. Generations ahead of the curve, she learned to do what she wanted, when she wanted, and became an international icon in the process. The woman was fearless, fantastic. Who else would stroll down the Champs-Élysées, fabulous from the clothes on her back to the diamond collar that adorned the neck of her pet cheetah (yes, cheetah), Chiquita? Her influence and legacy continues to be seen in many of the other women I view as personal inspirations – from Eartha Kitt, to Diana Ross, to Beyonce Knowles.