Josephine Baker was an undeniable superstar. But that super stardom was earned in Europe because Baker had a pigmentation problem for White America.
Born into U.S. poverty in 1906, this multi-talented dancer, chanteuse, sex symbol, raconteur, fashionista and all-round powerhouse was packing all the elite nightclubs in Europe by 1930. She was as big, or bigger, to the French and other Europeans as Edith Piaf became.
Hollywood largely shunned her although there are some obscure forays into film in the 30s-40s period, when the world descended into the insanity of WW2. But Baker survived the war and continued to perform for another 30 years, even appearing at Carnegie Hall in a triumphant 1973 concert.
Some have called her the first international black superstar although today she is not accorded the place she rightfully earned. Her accessible, direct style, fluttering vibrato and sensuous vocals are evident in this rare television appearance from the early 70s. At a mere 62, when most entertainers have hung it up, she delivers an energetic medley of American songbook hits to be climaxed with–of course–the Charleston, a dance she made an international sensation.
Sean O’Meara is a Los Angeles-based singer available for bookings with his one man-show, American Songbook Gold.