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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Josephine Baker

b. 1906, St. Louis, Missouri; d. 1975, Paris

Starting as a musician on the streets of St. Louis at the age of thirteen, Josephine Baker rose to international stardom in the cabarets of Paris. She toured with a vaudeville troupe, the Dixie Steppers, before landing jobs as a chorus girl in New York, appearing in the Harlem musical revues Shuffle Along (1921) and The Chocolate Dandies (1924). She moved to Paris in 1925 to appear in La Revue Nègre, dazzling audiences with le jazz hot dancing, exotic costumes, and comic turns. “The Black Venus,” as she was dubbed, then performed at the Folies Bergère (her signature number: “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” clad in three bracelets and a belt of bananas). Baker became the toast of Parisian society; she opened her own cabaret, Chez Joséphine, and posed for artists, including Picasso and Man Ray. A European tour followed. She returned to New York in the mid-1930s and performed in the Ziegfield Follies. During World War II, by now a French citizen, she joined the Free French underground, volunteered with the Red Cross, and entertained troops in North Africa, receiving France’s Croix de Guerre for her service. Baker’s later years were devoted increasingly to civil rights activism in the United States; she refused to perform for segregated audiences and worked with the NAACP. Between 1954 and 1965, she adopted twelve children of diverse races, calling them her “rainbow tribe.” In 1975, shortly before her death, she returned to the stage for two sensational evenings at the Bobino Theater in Paris. The French honored her memory with a state funeral.

Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939). <em>The Dinner Party</em> (Heritage Floor; detail), 1974–79. Porcelain with rainbow and gold luster, 48 x 48 x 48 ft. (14.6 x 14.6 x 14.6 m). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation, 2002.10. © Judy Chicago. Photograph by Jook Leung Photography
Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939). The Dinner Party (Heritage Floor; detail), 1974–79. Porcelain with rainbow and gold luster, 48 x 48 x 48 ft. (14.6 x 14.6 x 14.6 m). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation, 2002.10. © Judy Chicago. Photograph by Jook Leung Photography

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