Friday, June 03, 2011

Happy Birthday, Josephine

Baker and her cheetah ChiquitaToday in St Louis, Missouri, in 1903, Josephine Baker was born. An American ex-pat, Baker was immensely popular in Europe, especially her adopted country of France.

She was the first African-American woman to star in a major motion picture, to integrate an American concert hall, and to become a world famous entertainer. La Baker was the toast of France, so popular that the Nazis had to leave her alone - which allowed her to work for the Resistance. After the war, for her underground activity, Baker was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Légion d'Honneur by General Charles de Gaulle, and also the Rosette of the Résistance.

In the words of Shirley Bassey: "... she went from a 'petite danseuse sauvage' with a decent voice to 'la grande diva magnifique' ... I swear in all my life I have never seen, and probably never shall see again, such a spectacular singer and performer."

Her death was suitable: As the Wikipedia article puts it,
On April 9, 1975, Baker starred in a retrospective revue at the Bobino in Paris — Josépine à Bobino 1975, celebrating her 50 years in show business. The revue opened to rave reviews. Demand for seating reached such an extent that fold-out chairs had to be added to accommodate spectators. The opening night audience included Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger, Shirley Bassey, Diana Ross and Liza Minelli.

On the morning of April 10 Baker was found lying peacefully in her bed surrounded by newspapers with glowing reviews of her performance. She had slipped into a coma. She was taken to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, where she died at the age of 68 on April 12, 1975.

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