Name at birth: Freda Josephine Baker
Born in St. Louis, Josephine Baker was a star in Paris for most of her adult life. She left her home in Missouri and began performing in her early teens. She appeared in the chorus lines of all-black revues on New York vaudeville stages, then travelled to Paris in 1925 as part of La Revue Negre. Her lithe body and frank sensuality, combined with her jovial clowning on stage, caused a sensation. She was so successful in Paris that she stayed and opened her own nightclub there, Chez Josephine. Baker was famous for her exotic outfits, her trademarks being a leopard on a leash, a skirt made of feathers, and a dance in which she wore a string of bananas and not much else. She became a citizen of France in 1937, and during World War II she worked with the Resistance against the Nazis. After the war she fought for civil rights in the United States, returned to France and retired in 1956 to look after her 12 adopted children. Baker fell on hard times in the 1960s but was rescued from destitution by Princess Grace of Monaco, who helped Baker put on another stage show, Josephine, in 1975. Baker died the same year and was given a state funeral in Paris.