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Sharon Carson

Although she spent most of her adult life living in France and touring the world, Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri. After a difficult childhood, she left home at thirteen, starting her dance career with a vaudeville troupe called the Dixie Steppers. In the early 1920s, she worked in African American theater productions in New York such as Shuffle Along and Chocolate Dandies. In 1925 Baker left for Paris to begin her long international career with companies like Revue Nègre, Folies Bergères, and, later, the Ziegfeld Follies.

As her career evolved, Baker increasingly focused on political concerns. During World War II Baker toured North Africa while providing information to French and British intelligence. Later she used her considerable fame to advance civil rights issues during her frequent visits to the United States. In 1951 the NAACP honored her political work by declaring an official Baker Day ...

Article

Marie-Françoise Christout

Baker was an African-American singer and dancer who became famous in Paris in the 1920s. She made her debut at the age of fourteen at the Booker T. Washington Theater in her home town, and subsequently went on tours. During this time she married first Willie Wells and then William Howard Baker, from whom, despite intervening liaisons and a pretended marriage to Count Pepito Abatino, she was not divorced until 1936. She was engaged in New York for the 1920s musical comedies Shuffle Along and The Chocolate Dandies.

Paris discovered Baker on 20 October 1925 when, with her partner Joe Alex, she appeared as the star of Noble Sissle's La Revue Nègre at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. The subject of much attention, she posed for Paul Colin, Pablo Picasso, Fujita Tsuguharu, Kees van Dongen, Man Ray, Henri Laurens, Alexander Calder and ...

Article

US-born dancer and singer who became a star of the Paris music halls. She began her career as a chorus girl in an African-American revue in Philadelphia and also appeared at the Cotton Club in Harlem. In the 1920s she was hired to work on the New York musical comedies Shuffle Along and The Chocolate Dandies, but her career break came when she went to Paris in 1925 in La Revue nègre at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Paris was charmed; she posed for Picasso and Man Ray; André Levinson called her the black Venus For her debut at the Folies Bergère she wore a belt of bananas and sang Yes We Have No Bananas She subsequently made the French capital her home As one of the first black international stars she performed regularly at the Folies Bergère and the Casino de Paris as well as on numerous ...

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

For many people, Josephine Baker's name will always evoke a well-known, controversial image: the “Black Venus” naked onstage, except for a string of bananas around her waist, dancing to African drums before her white Parisian audiences. It was this image that first made Baker a star, one whose international fame lasted for five decades. But the picture of the exotic dancer does not fully capture the complexity of the woman who was one of the first black performers to transcend race and appeal to audiences of all colors around the world.

Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri to Freda Josephine MacDonald the name Baker came from her second husband Her parents were not married her father was a drummer in a local band and her mother a washerwoman rarely had enough money to support Baker and her three younger half siblings At age eight Baker began working as ...

Article

Patrick O'Connor

Baker, Josephine (03 June 1906–12 April 1975), dancer, singer, and civil rights activist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a musician, and Carrie Macdonald. Her parents parted when Josephine was still an infant, and her mother married Arthur Martin, which has led to some confusion about her maiden name. Very little is known about her childhood, except that she was a witness to the East St. Louis riot in 1917. This event was often a feature of her talks in the 1950s and 1960s about racism and the fight for equality, which fostered the oft-repeated assertion that the family was resident in East St. Louis. Before the age of eighteen Josephine had been married twice, first to Willie Wells and then to William Baker, to whom she was married in Camden, New Jersey, in September 1921.

Josephine Baker like many other African ...

Article

Karen C. Dalton

dancer, singer, and entertainer, was born in the slums of East St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a drummer, who abandoned Baker and her mother after the birth of a second child, and of Carrie McDonald, a onetime entertainer who supported what became a family of four by doing laundry. Poverty, dislocation, and mistreatment permeated Baker's childhood. By the age of eight she was earning her keep and contributing to the family's support by doing domestic labor. By the time Baker was fourteen, she had left home and its discord and drudgery; mastered such popular dances as the Mess Around and the Itch, which sprang up in the black urban centers of the day; briefly married Willie Wells and then divorced him and begun her career in the theater She left East St Louis behind and traveled with the Dixie Steppers on ...

Article

Kariamu Welsh

Josephine Baker was the first and greatest black dancer to emerge in the genre now called “performance art.” She epitomized through dance what freedom of expression and artistic expression really meant for generations of artists worldwide. Baker was one of the few artists in the world who were acclaimed and awarded for being themselves. Her genius resided in her conception of music, dance, and comedy; she had a musician’s sense of timing, a dancer’s instinct for cutting a phrase, and a comedian’s ability to deliver a punch line even when it was in a song or gesture. Not merely an entertainer, Baker was in every sense of the word an artist, and it was as an artist that she made her mark on the world.

Baker was also a humanitarian who in her own unique and eccentric way tried to live by example She symbolized beauty elegance grace and most ...

Article

Asli Tekinay

singer and dancer. Josephine Baker was born Freda Josephine McDonald in a poor black neighborhood in Saint Louis, Missouri. Her mother, Carrie MacDonald, was twenty-one years old at the time and worked as a laundry woman. Her father, Eddie Carson a vaudeville drummer left his wife a year after Josephine was born Josephine thus grew up fatherless and in poverty When she was eight years old her mother hired her out to a white woman as a maid From then on Josephine was on her own in life An ambitious and optimistic child she learned to dance in the back streets of Saint Louis She went to the zoo watched kangaroos camels and giraffes and imitated their movements She wanted to be a great dancer and live a glamorous life At the age of twelve she dropped out of school and at thirteen her professional life began ...

Article

A young African American dancer named Josephine Baker and her act, La Revue Nègre (The Negro Revue), took Paris by storm in 1925. Baker described their effect in these words: “When the rage was in New York of colored people, Mr. Siegfied of Ziegfied Follies said: ‘It's getting darker and darker on old Broadway.’ Since La Revue Nègre came to Gai Paree, I'll say, ‘It's getting darker and darker in Paris.’”

Article

Princess Mhoon Cooper

dancer, choreographer, artistic director, educator, and activist, was born in Effingham, South Carolina, the eldest of three daughters of Jack Cummings and Carrie Cummings sharecroppers who grew tobacco and cotton When Blondell was a year old the Cummingses like many African American families of the mid twentieth century migrated to the North While both her parents had relatives who previously moved to New York it was Jack who followed two of his four church singing brothers to the city to pursue careers in the commercial music industry Upon the family s arrival in Harlem Jack found work as a taxi driver and Carrie earned a living as a domestic and later completed school to become a health care professional Cummings described her upbringing as very strict and typical of most black families Her mother was the disciplinarian and while her father was not an authoritarian together they ran a ...

Article

Edmund Abaka

Fulani scholar and Muslim cleric Osman dan Fodio was one of the leaders who emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when West Africa had seen a series of revolutions which consolidated Islam in West Africa. Born in 1754 to Fulani parents in Gobir, Osman dan Fodio led a movement for reform caused by political, economic, and social grievances, but voiced through a powerful religious revolution in the Hausa States. It culminated in the creation of the one of the largest Muslim polities, the Sokoto Caliphate, in eighteenth-century Africa.

As a young man, Osman received a Muslim education and studied under a number of famous and reformist teachers who affected his outlook on life and religion. When Jibril b. Umar the last of his teachers fled Agades after an unsuccessful jihad among the Tuareg the twenty year old dan Fodio returned to Hausaland to begin life as a teacher ...

Article

Kaavonia Hinton

author, dancer, and activist, was born Carlene Hatcher in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Lillian Cook and John Hatcher, international representatives of the United Automobile Workers-Congress of Industrial Organizations (UAW-CIO). By age twelve she was already exhibiting an interest in creative writing, completing several poems while attending public schools in Detroit. After her high school graduation, she attended Sarah Lawrence College, a coeducational liberal arts school outside New York City.

While attending Sarah Lawrence she decided to pursue dance at the prestigious Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, one of the nation's oldest dance schools. From 1955 to 1963 Polite enjoyed a career as a professional dancer, appearing on stage with the Concert Dance Theatre of New York City from 1955 to 1959, the Vanguard Playhouse in Detroit from 1960 to 1962 and as a dancer and organizer at the Equity Theater in Detroit ...

Article

Ronna C. Johnson

Carlene Hatcher Polite is among the important artists to emerge from the “second renaissance” of African American culture in the 1960s and 1970s. The author of two experimental novels, The Flagellants (1966) and Sister X and the Victims of Foul Play (1975), Polite forged a unique prose style that helped establish innovative modes popularized by later writers. In addition to writing, her widespread career included professional dance training, performance, and instruction; political organizing; civil rights activism; and academic appointments. Born in Detroit to John and Lillian (Cook) Hatcher, international representatives of UAW-CIO, Polite attended Sarah Lawrence College and the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. From 1955 to 1963, she pursued a career as a professional dancer. Polite performed with the Concert Dance Theater of New York City (1955–1959) and the Detroit Equity Theatre and Vanguard Playhouse (1960–1962 and taught ...