Josephine Baker was born on June 3, 1906, in the United States, in Missouri, with the name Freda Josephine McDonald.
Her parents, Eddie Carson and Carrie McDonald, lived in the poor neighbourhood of Saint-Louis, a city founded by the French in 1764, where she grew up. After having served as a waitress since the age of thirteen, she became a dancer at eighteen, and performed in New York, notably in La Revue Nègre. In 1925, the one known as the Black Venus went to Paris and, soaring from success to success, she became a great star. With her sweet gorgeous voice characterized by delicious exotic accents, she sang several songs notably la petite Tonkinoise and J'ai deux amours, in 1930. In 1937, she obtained French citizenship through marriage.
In 1939, at the outbreak of the war, Josephine Baker was a performer at Folies Bergères and Casino de Paris, alongside Maurice Chevalier. Faithful to her adopted fatherland, she decided to work for the French intelligence services and during evening shows, applied herself to gathering information from officers on the location of German troops. She hid refugees and weapons at the Château des Milandes, a castle in Périgord, where she lived. As from the summer of 1940, banned from the stage by Nazi laws, she became one of the first resistant fighters by exporting overseas intelligence information written with invisible ink in her scores. When crossing borders, she would fasten other messages inside her bra. Suspected and threatened to be arrested by the Germans, she fled to Morocco and settled in Marrakech.
On May 23, 1944, Josephine Baker officially joined the French Air Force. Holder of a pilot’s licence, she was sent to the 117 battalion where she served as propaganda officer. Upon promotion to the rank of second lieutenant, she became a true ambassador of Free France during her tours in North Africa and the Middle East.
Upon the restoration of peace, Josephine Baker devoted most of her time and energy to charitable organizations, the protection of war victims and the defence of civil rights. She adopted orphans, and formed her "Rainbow Tribe”, resident at Château des Milandes, a castle she bought in Périgord. In order to foot her expenses, she organized charity galas, and started making tours again, but as years went by, her debt burden became heavier...
On April 12, 1945, she had a cardiac discomfort and four days after performing at the Bobino theatre, during the première of a show recounting her life, she died of cerebral haemorrhage. At a heavily attended solemn mass celebrated in her honour at the Madeleine church, she was given military honours.
Josephine Baker was Knight of the Legion of Honour, holder of the war cross (with palm), the Resistance medal, the Free France medal and the Second World War commemorative medal. Besides her luxury, glamour and glitter, this beautiful generous-hearted volunteer servicewoman was simple and pure in her soul, qualities that make her memory evergreen in our mines.