Black History Month: Josephine Baker

Good Day you Magnificent Minions!!!

We’re here, we’re queer, that is one of the reasons that the Passions is honoring quite possibly her most favorite Black History Month Beauty thus far, the one, the only, the Bronze Venus, the Black Pearl, Miss Josephine Baker.

Beautiful, fearless and quite talented, she embraced herself in her entirety, her open and far-reaching mind, her body and her rich culture.  She is a huge reason why the Passions feels so passionately about the topic of the erotic.  From the Harlem Renaissance to Broadway to Vaudeville (where she was the highest paid), to opening in Paris in the Theater des Champ-Elysees with her “erotic dancing,” Josephine was organically controversial in order to make her mark.  Paris loved her and that performance was only the beginning as it led to her starring in the famous Folies Bergeres where she did her notorious Danse Sauvage.  Imagine that, when Miss Baker graced the stages in gay ole Paris, dancing wearing nothing but a smile and a string of bananas laced around her waist – she was thought of as a controversial anomaly here in the States.  But in France, she was accepted and loved wholeheartedly because mainly, “they got it.”

She collected a very eclectic group of friends and admirers including a pocket of close knit ex-pats.  Ernest Hemingway said Baker was “the most sensational woman I ever saw.”  She became a muse for many important artists (contemporary writers, artists, designers, sculptures) of that time – Langston Hughes, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Christian Dior.  Shirley Bassey cites Baker as her primary influence.

And her love interests?  Well, we’re gonna keep it queer here and say Josephine loved the ladies.  Her son, Jean Claude Baker states that his mother had numerous lesbian affairs with many of the women she toured with on the Black Performing circuit like Bessie Anderson, Ada “Bricktop” Smith, Clara Smith, Evelyn Shepard and Mildred Smallwood. But she was also involved with the French writer Colette and Mexican artists Frieda Kahlo.  Apparently it was not uncommon for Baker to have affairs with women throughout her life, regardless of her/their marital status.

Civil Rights Activist and Humanitarian – Miss Baker raised her Rainbow Tribe which consisted of twelve multi-ethnic orphans despite some hardships that found her in her later years.  But she was courageous – refusing to perform for segregated audiences in the U.S., and standing side by side with Dr. Martin Luther King during the March on Washington.  Miss Baker was the only woman to speak at the rally.  After Dr. King’s assassination, it is alleged that Coretta Scott King asked Baker if she would consider taking Dr. King’s place as the leader of the American Civil Rights movement to which Miss Baker declined, citing that, “her children were too young to lose their Mother.” My dear sweet ones, this is a legacy, a profound legacy that is extremely hard to top.

We lost this legend of legends in 1975.  She received full French military honors at her funeral.   It is not difficult to see her influences in Grace Jones, Janet Jackson and even Madonna and Gaga because Miss Baker’s personae was always pushing the boundaries when she was being herself, artistic, Avant Garde, sensual and VERY political.  In all seriousness, if there is an artist that has truly inspired the Passions more than anyone else, it is most definitely Josephine Baker.


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