What Can Be Learned from Josephine Baker

15 Apr

Josephine Baker

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
Simply put, Josephine Baker means a lot to me. I first heard of her when reading the book Beautylicious by Jenyne M. Raines. After hearing extravagant stories about what a fascinating woman Ms. Baker was, I had to learn more about her myself. And learn I did.

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.

One of the most amazing facets of Josephine Baker is just that – she is a unique, multi-faceted woman. Not only is she a style icon, but she was a groundbreaking performer, a civil rights pioneer and a dutiful global citizen.

ps – My deepest apologies for this late post.

5 Responses to “What Can Be Learned from Josephine Baker”

  1. Get Togetha May 2, 2010 at 10:53 am #

    Josephine Baker was a woman truly ahead of her time. The idea of adopting 12 children of different nationalities from around the world speaks volumes. I wonder what her children are doing now?

    • Tara Melissa May 3, 2010 at 12:47 am #

      This is all very true. I do know that one of her children wrote a book about her, The Hungry Heart. It features interviews with her friends and some of her children. I am really interested in reading it.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Jenyne March 27, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    I know this note is late, ok, a lot late, as I have just seen your blog on Joesphine Baker. However, I wanted you to know that I was beyond thrilled that not only did you read my book Beautylicious! The Black Girl’s Guide to the Fabulous Life, you were suitably intrigued with one of the guiding dolls, Josephine Baker, to read up on her and find out for yourself what makes her an endearing icon for black women specifically and glamour in general. It is important to me that we know and celebrate our glam trailblazers and that they didn’t start with Rhianna. (LOL). Since I am feeling another teachable moment coming on, I challenge you to check out
    La Baker’s unsung contemporary, Bricktop. And for extra credit, look up Dorothy Dean. An acolyte of the artist Andy Warhol, she’s a cautionary tale of how fabulousness can go way wrong.
    Keep up the great blogging Tara!



    • Tara Melissa March 31, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

      Oh my goodness! I literally squealed when I saw this comment. Your book was (is!) one of my bibles, and I still have my copy faithfully sitting on my bookshelf (when I’m not lending it out, which I continue to do)

      Aside from the references to the fabulous ladies that came before us, the practical advice continues to be useful.

      I’m definitely going to look up the women you mentioned, as I hadn’t heard of them either.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting.


  1. I Love Touring Paris – the Ninth Arrondissement :The Longtail Music Catalog - April 24, 2010

    […] What Can Be Learned from Josephine Baker « love, tara. […]

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