Josephine Baker, born June 3, 1906, was a French entertainer. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. Baker had a rough childhood — she dropped out of school and became a street child. She slept under cardboard structures in the streets and scavenged for food in the trash cans. Baker moved to Paris in 1925 where she found success as a dancer. She was dubbed the “Black Pearl,” by intellectuals and artists of her era. We’ll help you celebrate Josephine’s special day right here.
Freda Josephine McDonald
Black Pearl, Black Venus
June 3, 1906
April 12, 1975 (age 68)
Freda Josephine McDonald was born on June 3, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mother was called Carrie and her father was Eddie Carson. She spent her early childhood in poverty. She lived on 212 Targee Street in the Mill Creek Valley of St.Louis, a low-income neighborhood with brothels, rooming houses, and apartments without indoor plumbing. Her mother, Carrie took on laundry cleaning jobs to make ends meet. She later got married to Arthur Martin and had three more children with him.
When Baker was eight, she began working as a live-in domestic for white families in St.Louis. She was occasionally overworked and tortured. One woman burned Josephine’s hands when she put too much soap in the laundry. At age 12, Baker dropped out of school and went to live on the streets. She slept in cardboard shelters in the slums of St.Louis and scavenged for food in garbage cans. At 13, she found a job at the “Old Chauffeur’s club” at 3133 Pine Street.
One year later, Baker went to New York City during the Harlem Renaissance and secured a role in the chorus line of the Broadway revue, “Shuffle Along.” In 1925, Baker sailed to Paris and became an instant success for her erotic dancing. Several years later, Baker became the most successful American entertainer working in France. In 1929, Baker became the first African American entertainer to visit Yugoslavia while on tour. During her travels to Yugoslavia, Baker was accompanied by Count Giuseppe Pepito Abatino. She performed in luxurious venues in the city at the time but most of her shows were canceled, due to opposition from the morality police and local clergy.
Baker secured a role in the chorus line of the hugely successful Broadway revue, “Shuffle Along.”
Baker sailed to Paris at 19.
Baker became the first African American star to visit Yugoslavia.
Baker released her song titled ‘J’ai Deux amours.’
Why We Love Josephine Baker
She was hardworking
Baker started from the absolute bottom. But she grew to become one of the most famous entertainers of the 20th Century.
She was optimistic
Baker had a rough childhood. Despite this, she managed to rise to stardom.
She was gorgeous
Baker was pretty. She had a flexible body and knew how to dance.
5 Surprising Facts
Baker kept exotic pets
She had a variety of pets including a chimpanzee and leopard.
She adopted kids
Baker loved kids, causing her to adopt several.
She was offered a leadership role
Following the death of Martin Luther King, Jr, Baker was asked to become the new leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. but she refused.
She knew Grace Kelly
Grace and Baker were good friends.
The big screen
She was the first African-American woman to star in a major motion picture.
Josephine Baker FAQs
What is Josephine Baker best known for?
She symbolized the beauty and talent of Black American culture.
Was Josephine Baker black or white?
She was an African American.
How did Josephine Baker change the world?
Baker reconceptualized the image of black performers and helped black entertainers to become recognized as artists.
Josephine Baker’s birthday dates