Josephine Baker (June 3, 1906 - April 12, 1975), born Freda Josephine McDonald, was an American-French dancer, actress and singer. She was given the nicknames "Black Venus," "Black Pearl" and "Creole Goddess." Although born American, she became a French citizen in 1937.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Carrie McDonald. Her father is identified as vaudeville drummer Eddie Carson by the official biography of her estate; however, there are other sources that state that her father was a travelling Jewish salesman. She was of mixed ethnic background: Native American/African American. She descended from Apalachee Indians and Black slaves in South Carolina.

She started her career as a busker, dancing in the street as a child. She entered vaudeville joining the St. Louis Chorus at 15. She then headed toward New York City during the Harlem Renaissance, performing at the Plantation Club and in the chorus of the popular Broadway revues Shuffle Along (1921) and The Chocolate Dandies (1924). She performed as the last dancer in a chorus line, a position in which the dancer traditionally performed in a comic manner, as if they were unable to remember the dance, until the encore, at which point they would not only perform it correctly, but with additional complexity. She was then billed as "the highest-paid chorus girl in vaudeville."

On October 2, 1925, she opened in Paris at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, where she became an instant success for her erotic dancing and for appearing practically nude on stage. After a successful tour of Europe, she reneged on her contract and returned to France to star at the Folies Bergère, setting the standard for her future acts. She performed wearing only high heels and a skirt made of bananas; she was often accompanied by her pet leopard, Chiquita, who was adorned with a diamond collar. The leopard frequently escaped into the orchestra pit, where it terrorized the musicians, adding yet another element of excitement to the show.

After a short while she was the most successful American entertainer working in France—whereas in the U.S., she would have suffered from the racial prejudices common to the era.

She was so well-known and popular that even the Nazis, who occupied France during World War II were hesitant to cause her harm. In turn, this allowed Baker to show her loyalty to her adopted country by participating in the Underground. After the war, Baker was awarded the Croix de Guerre for her underground activity.
Josephine Baker