Talking about Josephine Baker, author Ernest Hemingway described her as “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” The American-born French actress, dancer and singer had an undeniable attraction and charisma that quickly earned her names such as Creole Goddess, Bronze Venus and Black Pearl. Fluent in both French and English, Baker kicked off her career as an entertainer during the Harlem Renaissance. She performed at the famous Plantation Club and had roles in Broadway shows such as Shuffle Along and The Chocolate Dandies. Baker made history as the first black woman to star in a major motion picture, when she appeared in the 1934 film Zouzou.
Dealing with the crippling effects of racism in the United States, Baker found the peak of stardom in France, where she was revered as a performer, often joined on stage by her pet cheetah named Chiquita. A muse for a diverse roster of talents that included Christian Dior, Pablo Picasso and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Baker made for quite the arresting image, becoming known for her performance of the Danse sauvage in a skirt made of artificial bananas. Baker’s impact didn’t end there. She also had a voice in the American Civil Rights Movement, joining Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to rally against racism at the March on Washington.