Josephine Baker

Icons of the Century

The “Creole Goddess” exploded onto the Paris stage in the 1920s, thrilling the haute bourgeois with her unique mix of song, dance, sex, satire and comedy — and a skirt made of bananas.

African-American Josephine Baker thrived in France as she could not do in her native U.S., where she was viewed askance as an exotic novelty act. But she was a woman of substance, using her wealth and fame to mask WWII espionage work and adopting a Rainbow Tribe of 12 children in her fight against U.S. segregation.

She was finally embraced by America in 1973, wowing Carnegie Hall. In 1975, she took Paris again, but died shortly thereafter. Twenty thousand people attended her funeral, where she was honored with a 21-gun salute.

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