Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker was a fascinating woman! Here are several sites providing information about her life and highlighting different facets of her image.


Throughout her life, Baker drew on her personal experiences to shape her performances. In turn, she transformed her everyday environments from Le Vesinet to Les Milandes into stage sets where exciting dramas unfurled. In interaction with her audiences — both diegetic and real — Baker emerged as an "institution," reflecting the spirit of her times and pushing beyond ordinary and expected norms of performance. Part of Baker's distinctiveness resided in her boundary crossing and the audacity with which she experimented with new ideas. Baker's art was where she lived, and it manifested what her "real life" had been and was becoming. Real life notwithstanding, Baker lived her life as an echo, or reflection, of her art. These multiple resonating reflections enlarged her image again and again until it became more than she could ever have anticipated. It became an icon that represented an entire generation and a foretelling of the future. Absorbing new influences like a sponge, she appropriated others' images of her as her own and added to them new and unanticipated facets. Later in life, Baker used her own image and ironic sense of the camp, the cliche, and the retro to encode more new messages. This was part of what she called "doing Josephine." Baker's life in review allows us to see how an individual epitomizes her era, and how life and the art of performance mirror each other in the production of new cultural forms.

—Bennetta Jules-Rosette, Josephine Baker in Art and Life: The Icon and the Image (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007), pp. 284-285. [For more on this book. see Postmodern Homegirl.]


Josephine Baker Quotations

Driven by dark forces I couldn't recognize, I improvised, crazed by the music, the overheated theater filled to the bursting point, the scorching eye of the spotlights. Even my teeth and eyes burned with fever. Each time I leaped I seemed to touch the sky and when I regained earth it seemed to be mine alone. I felt as intoxicated as when, on the day I arrived in Paris, Douglas had given me a glass of anisette.
—Josephine Baker and Jo Bouillon, Josephine (NY: Paragon House Publishers, 1988), pp. 51-52).

Books were not for me. They taught me nothing about life. Life was meant to be breathed and touched and smelled. Books tried to package experience. I like my living fresh.
—Ibid., p. 99.

There was no job I wouldn't do. I'll never forget our head gardener's face the morning he found me, dressed in one of his smocks, arranging the earth around our little Temple of Love. He had undoubtedly thought I was reclining in a cloud of chiffon on "Marie Antoinette's" bed. I needed to be constantly in motion, driving my roadster, flying my plane, running through the fields with my dogs. It was my way of expressing joy at being alive.
—Ibid., p. 90.

Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa...We ended every show by unfurling our handsome flag. The powdered, pampered Josephine of the past seemed almost like a stranger. More often than not, my face was dust-stained now. Life takes on new meaning when death is ever present, ever near, like a watchdog alerting us with his growling. Yet in spite of all we saw and endured, we continued singing. It's not that war hardens our hearts. Many people remain feeling as before. But war shapes us, forcing us to look deep within to find tenderness.
Ibid., p. 136.


Josephine Baker: Star


Josephine with her banana skirt, 1926-27



Glamour shots of Josephine in the 1920s

A striking poster had been designed to promote the show. I appeared all over Paris emerging form a cloud of green feathers, nude except for ropes of pearls reaching below my loins, bracelets twisting from wrist to shoulders, sparkling shoe buckles and dangling earrings. Chiquita, seated on his haunches, a bow around his supple neck, was offering me an enormous bunch of flowers. In spite of its charm and humor, the poster was, of course, exaggerated. Chiquita was not one to offer posies, although I had supplied him with a collar to match each of my outfits.
Ibid., p. 85.



Josephine with Chiquita, her pet cheetah, 1930-31


Josephine Baker: Universal Mother


Josephine had no children of her own, but she adopted a Rainbow Tribe of them and made a home for them at Chateau des Milandes. [Also here].


Josephine evicted from Milandes by creditors in 1969; 10 of her tribe at a 1990 homage to Josephine


Josephine Baker: Patriot


Josephine in uniform after the Liberation of Paris in 1944 and accepting the Legion of Honor medal at Milandes in 1961


Josephine Baker: Real Trouper


Josephine performing in 1962, 1968, 1973, 1974, and 1975 (she was born in 1909)


Josephine's funeral procession in Paris in 1975


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Last modified on March 3, 2010 by Kay Keys (kay@kaykeys.net)