Josephine baker banana dance: created world’s greatest black dancer

Josephine baker banana dance

Josephine Baker Banana Dance is a mesmerizing piece of performance art that encapsulates the spirit of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties. It remains a powerful symbol of artistic expression, Cultural Revolution, and the enduring spirit of resistance. Beyond its entertainment value, the Josephine baker Banana Dance was also a political statement. Josephine baker was an African- American singer who lived most of her life in France, where she was acclaimed as the personification of “le jazz hot” of America in the 1920s. Her career spanned music, dance, and acting, making her one of the most celebrated performers of the Jazz Age and greatest black dancer of the world.

Early Life of Josephine baker

Josephine Baker American Dancer was a remarkable figure whose life traversed boundaries of race, culture, and entertainment. Born Freda Josephine McDonald in 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri. She faced hardships from a young age, working various odd jobs to support herself. At only eight years old, she was working as a maid for wealthy white families. She began dancing on the streets of St. Louis. She made her debut at the age of fourteen at the Booker T Washington Theater in her hometown, later joined a vaudeville troupe, touring across the United States.

She was engaged in New York for the 1920s musical comedies Shuffle Along and The Chocolate Dandies. Her talent caught the eye of producers, leading her to New York City, where she achieved success in the Harlem Renaissance scene. In the early 1920s, Baker moved to Paris, France, where she found unparalleled fame and fortune. Baker found fame in Paris during the 1920s, captivating audiences with her electrifying performances, often clad in her iconic banana skirt. Despite her challenging upbringing, Baker found solace in performing. She rose from poverty to become an international sensation.

Josephine baker banana dance
Josephine Baker was a "triple threat": dancer, singer, and actress, a star in films as well as on the stage.

Josephine baker and Paris

Josephine Baker appeared in Paris on 20 October 1925 as the star of Noble Sissle’s La Revue Negre at the Theater des Champs-Elysées with her partner Joe Alex. In a short time, she became a sensation in the Parisian nightlife, known for her electrifying performances and charismatic stage presence. Baker’s exotic beauty, combined with her captivating dance moves, made her an instant sensation. Josephine Baker banana dance was the most famous performance of, where she danced across the stage in a banana skirt.

 Apart from her dancing work, she posed for Paul Colin, Pablo Picasso, Fujita Tsuguharu, Kees van Dongen, Man Ray, Henri Laurens, Alexander Calder, and Domergue. Colette called her a “beautiful panther.” Her version of the Charleston charmed the art critic Pierre MacOrlan and the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald.  

André Levinson wrote about her “Some of her poses, with her waist curved inward, her rump projecting, her arms interlaced and lifted in a semblance of a phallic symbol evoke all the marvels of noble black statuary. She is no longer the dancing girl. She is the Black Venus who haunted Baudelaire.

Baker next dazzled Berlin. She turned down offers to perform from both Max Reinhardt and Count Henry Kessler to make her debut at the Folies-Bergere wearing a belt of bananas in the combined whimsical improvisation with exceptional professionalism and extraordinary radiance.

Josephine Baker banana dance

Josephine Baker’s iconic Banana Dance is a mesmerizing piece of performance art that encapsulates the spirit of the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties. The Banana Dance, featured in the Folies Bergere in 1926, remains one of her most famous acts. Clad in a skirt made of artificial bananas, Baker’s energetic and sensual dance captivated audiences. Baker’s uninhibited movements and exotic attire symbolized a break from the traditional, conservative values of the era, and reflected the growing cultural shifts of the period. It remains a powerful symbol of artistic expression, the Cultural Revolution, and the enduring spirit of resistance. Beyond its entertainment value, the Banana Dance was also a political statement.

Josephine baker costume

Her costume choices were as bold and trailblazing as her persona, often pushing boundaries and challenging societal norms. One of her most famous costumes is the banana skirt ensemble, which she wore during her performances in the 1920s. This outfit, consisting of a skirt made entirely of artificial bananas and a bandeau top, became synonymous with her image and symbolized her exotic allure and unapologetic sensuality.

The banana skirt, designed by the French couturier Jean Louis, remains an enduring symbol of Baker’s fearless embrace of her sexuality and her rejection of racial stereotypes. In addition to the banana skirt, Baker’s costumes often featured feathers, sequins, and elaborate headpieces, drawing inspiration from her African American heritage and her experiences traveling the world.  Josephine Baker’s costumes continue to inspire designers and performers today, embodying the spirit of creativity, individuality, and defiance.

Josephine Baker as Black Sex Symbol

Baker opened a cabaret known as Chez Josephine with the help of the impresario Pepito Abatino In 1926 the first of several. In 1927 she published her memoirs in Paris and also established the revue Un Vent de Folie. Baker made several films at this time, including Une Ev cursion a Paris, La Sirene des Tropiques, and Princess Tam Tam. She arouses both enthusiasm and hostility (particularly in Vienna) as a “black sex symbol.” In 1930 she succeeded the great star of music hall, Mistinguett, at the Casino de Paris, presenting the revue Paris qui Remue.

In 1933 Baker toured England and Europe. In 1934 she appeared in Jacques Offenbach’s La Creole at the Bouffles Prisiens Theater and filmed Zouzou with Jean Gabin. In 1936 she appeared at the Winter Garden in New York in the Ziegfeld Follies and opened another Chez Josephine cabaret there, on Fifty-Fourth Street. She returned to the Folies Bergere in 1937 and opened a new cabaret on the Champs-Elysees.

World War II and Civil Rights Movement

During World War II, she worked as a spy for the French Resistance, smuggling intelligence messages written on her sheet music. In September 1939, as World War II began, Baker starred with Maurice Chevalier in Paris-Londres at the Casino de Paris and appeared with him at the Theatre aux Armees.

She joined the Free French underground, volunteered with the Red Cross, revived La Creole in Marseille, and traveled to Casablanca to entertain French troops, where she became seriously ill with bronchitis and typhoid. After regaining her health in 1943, she performed for the armed forces in North Africa, Palestine, Corsica, and Italy, returning to Paris in 1944.

After the war, she continued her activism, participating in the Civil Rights Movement alongside figures like Martin Luther King Jr. Throughout her life, Baker was not only an entertainer but also a civil rights activist and a symbol of resistance against racism and discrimination. She used her platform to challenge societal norms and advocate for equality. Her contributions to the arts and her commitment to social justice continue to inspire generations worldwide.

Married life of Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker’s married life was colorful and eventful. She was married four times. During her career starting she married first Willie Wells at the age of 13 and then William Howard Baker, from whom; she derived her famous stage name. They married in 1921 but were not divorced until 1936.

She returned to the Folies Bergere in 1937 and opened a new cabaret on the Champs-Elysees, as well as marrying her third husband, a Frenchman Jean Lion. Lion was instrumental in helping Baker achieve success in France. They divorced in 1940. On 3 June 1947 Baker married musician Jo Bouillon at her château in the Dordogne, Les Milandes. Jo Bouillon was a French orchestra leader. They remained together until Baker died in 1975. Bouillon was deeply devoted to Baker and supported her throughout her life and career.

She visited the United States in 1948 and 1949; as a result of her experiences with racial segregation, she adopted twelve children of various races between 1954 and 1965. They became known as her “rainbow tribe.” Throughout her marriages, Baker faced challenges such as racism, financial difficulties, and personal struggles. However, she also experienced moments of great success and happiness, particularly in her later years with Jo Bouillon by her side. Baker’s marriages reflect her adventurous and independent spirit, as well as her determination to find love and happiness despite the obstacles she faced.

Later Life

Baker spent some time performing in Argentina in 1952. In 1956 she began a round of farewell performances in a number of countries, beginning at the Olympia in Paris. In May 1959 she returned to the Paris stage in Paris mes Amours, which traced her career from Saint Louis to her early conquest of Paris. She appeared at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1973 and in Monte Carlo in 1974. The principal purpose of these farewell performances was to raise money to meet her increasing expenses, the result of bringing up her large adopted family.

On 8 April 1975, she opened at the Bobino Music Hall in Paris in Josephine, another revue based on her life, but she died only a few days later, on 12 April.



In 1975, Josephine Baker was the first American woman to be buried in France with military honors, a testament to her profound impact on both sides of the Atlantic. She received France’s Croix de Guerre, for her work during the war, as well as the medal of the City of Paris and membership in the Légion.

The “black pearl” is remembered for her feline walk, her warmth, and her exceptional rhythmic spontaneity. Her legacy endures as a symbol of resilience, talent, and unwavering commitment to justice and equality.

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