Josephine Baker’s life is being celebrated across the world thanks to the reminder with which Google surprises us almost every other day. Google has put a beautiful doodle on the home page of the search giant about renowned French vedette, singer and entertainer.
Today it would have been the 111th birthday of the European artist who passed away some 42 years ago in the year 1975. There is no denying that Google brings us out of slumber on many occasions. Without today’s beautiful doodle from Google, not many would have actually recalled her name, let alone celebrating her life and remembering her.
She was a dancer with a heart of gold. She was fearless and the way she aided the French resistance during the World War II is surprising. Given the important role played by her, she was awarded the Croix de guerre by the French military, and was named a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by General Charles de Gaulle. She won the name and fame, initially in her career as a dancer, and was among the most celebrated performers to headline the lavish revues of the Folies Bergère in Paris. Her performance in the revue Un Vent de Folie in 1927 caused a sensation in Paris; her costume, consisting of only a girdle of bananas, became her most iconic image and a symbol of the jazz age and the 1920s.
In the early thirties, it was she who set the standards of fashion and was accepted as a fashion icon not just in France, but across Europe. Baker was the first person of African descent to become a world-famous entertainer and to star in a major motion picture, the 1934 Marc Allégret film Zouzou.
An important aspect of her personality was the fact that she never felt intimidated. It is well documented as to how she refused to perform for segregated audiences in the United States and is noted for her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. In 1968 she was offered unofficial leadership in the movement in the United States by Coretta Scott King, following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
Google, while eulogizing her and her life says, “With her kohl-rimmed eyes and exotic costumes, Josephine Baker pounced onto the global stage in the 1920s, becoming a Jazz Age icon and one of the first internationally recognized African-American entertainers…A celebrity in Europe – and one of the most photographed women on the planet – Baker nonetheless faced racially charged comments from the press when she returned to the U.S. in 1936 for a short-lived starring turn in the Broadway series Ziegfeld Follies. Championing diversity and fighting for civil rights would become an enduring concern throughout her life…There’s little doubt why Ernest Hemingway once called her “the most sensational woman anybody ever saw—or ever will.”
She had a rather very colorful life. She was married four times. Her first marriage took place when she was all of 13 years of age. Her first husband was Willie Wells only 13. But the marriage didn’t survive. In 1921, she married Willie Baker. This too didn’t survive as she began having an affair with famed Belgian novelist Georges Simenon in 1925. In 1937, she married Frenchman Jean Lion, and while the marriage enabled her to attain citizenship in France, she and Lion separated three years later. Her fourth and final marriage was to Jo Bouillon, a French composer, in 1947, which ended yet again in divorce. She never had children with any of her husbands.