Josephine Baker - A True Chorus Girl Legend....


Many folks only know of Josephine Baker as "the banana skirt" lady, but few realize the beginnings of her career. She began, as one can imagine given it's an article on this blog.... as a chorus girl.

A little bit about Josephine, from Wikipedia and this documentary:

Baker was born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Carrie McDonald. Her estate identifies vaudeville drummer Eddie Carson as her natural father. After her death, one of her foster children explained that it was believed that her father had been a white man, most likely of the German family whom her mother, Carrie, had worked for. Her mother let people think that Eddie Carson was the father, and apparently Carson played along.... (but) Josephine knew better. 
Baker dropped out of school at the age of 12 and lived as a street child in the slums of St.
Shuffle Along (1921)
Louis, sleeping in cardboard shelters and scavenging for food in garbage cans. Her street-corner dancing attracted attention and she was recruited for the St. Louis Chorus vaudeville show (with a group called "The Dixie Steppers") at the age of 15. She then headed to New York City during the Harlem Renaissance, performing at the Plantation Club and in the chorus of the groundbreaking and hugely successful Broadway revues Shuffle Along (1921) with Adelaide Hall, and The Chocolate Dandies (1924). Even though she was only 15, she had already been married twice - the second husband is the one who's name she used the rest of her life - Baker. 
She performed as the last dancer in a chorus line, a position where the dancer traditionally performed in a comic manner, as if she were unable to remember the dance, until the encore, at which point she would not only perform it correctly but with additional complexity. Baker was then billed as "the highest-paid chorus girl in vaudeville". 
She traveled to Paris, France, for a new venture, and opened in La Revue Nègre on October 2, 1925 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. In Paris, she became an instant success for her erotic dancing and for appearing practically nude on stage. After a successful tour of Europe, she reneged on her contract and returned to France to star at the Folies Bergères, setting the standard for her future acts. She performed the Danse sauvage, wearing a costume consisting of a skirt made of a string of artificial bananas. 
Her success coincided (1925) with the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs that gave birth to the term "Art Deco", and also with a renewal of interest in non-western forms of art, including African. Baker represented one aspect of this fashion. In later shows in Paris she was often accompanied on stage by her pet cheetah, Chiquita, who was adorned with a diamond collar. The cheetah frequently escaped into the orchestra pit, where it terrorized the musicians, adding another element of excitement to the show.
 There is SO MUCH MORE that can be written about and said about how amazing Josephine Baker was. About her political activism and fight for civil rights. About her love and devotion to her many adopted children. About her outlook and hopes for the world....

One fact is undeniable, however.... and that fact is that she was an INCREDIBLE performer on stage.

So, I'd like to share a few of my favorite clips of her....

Plantation Dance (1927)
A scene from the film, La Revue des Revues



Another scene from the film La Revue des Revues. I LOVE her fierceness in this film. The way she seems to growl as she spanks the floor. Such amazing lines in her dancing!



And finally, I absolutely obsessively love this scene of her dancing in Princess Tam Tam (1935). In this film, Josephine plays the role of a Tunisian woman, brought to Paris and paraded around as a "Tunisian Princess".... I can almost feel the fire inside of her as she watches the performers on stage, and is so enthusiastic about the performance that she feel she must JUMP onto the set and dance, as though she may burst into flames if she resists any longer.