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Joséphine Baker - Don't Touch Me Tomato

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Uploaded on Oct 15, 2010

From the 1962 RCA album - The Fabulous Joséphine Baker!

Joséphine Baker (1906-1975)

Freda Josephine McDonald was born into poverty at a time when no black parents were telling their children, "You can be anything you want to be." She had to leave school at 12 to help support her family, and was an accomplished street dancer by the following year. At 15, she took off for New York City, where she was influenced by the ongoing Harlem Renaissance, joining a chorus in 1921.

Frustrated with the lack of opportunity in the States, she relocated to Paris in 1925, where she became a star performer at the Folies Bergeres.

Ernest Hemingway declared her, "The most sensational woman anyone ever saw." She performed in hit shows and recorded hit songs, becoming a muse to a generation of artists and everyday Parisians. When she took her show on the road—back to the U.S.—she drew scathing, racially insulting reviews.

By 1937, she was married to a French native and back in France. One of the most popular entertainers in France, her status was such that during the German occupation of France the Nazis felt unable to cause her harm. This enabled Baker to assist the French Resistance by smuggling intelligence information to Portugal coded within her sheet music, for which she was awarded the Croix de Guerre after the war ended.

Baker was not content to make opportunity for herself, she was compelled to demand it for others in the form of a lifelong devotion to civil rights. She adopted 12 orphans from various backgrounds—her "Rainbow Tribe"—and was at the center of a huge contoversy when New York's Stork Club refused to serve her (in 1951) due to her race. Actress Grace Kelly rushed to her defense and the two became fast friends.

Baker retired at age 50 in 1956 to tend to her brood, divorcing her husband the following year. It's said she was asked by Coretta Scott King to take her late husband's place as the leader of King's mission, but refused out of concern for the fate of her children should she be assassinated. Instead, Baker was lured back to performing, making a splash at a 1966 show in Havana, Cuba, she was 60 years old.

She died on April 12th 1975, shortly after appearing in a revue celebrating her 50th year in show business (which was financed by Kelly, by then Princess Grace of Monaco) and was attended by a host of celebrities, in all, 20,000 people turned out on the streets of Paris to watch her funeral procession.

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