Baker, Josephine

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Also known as Josephine Carson
African-American-French entertainer

Baker (the surname of her second husband) was born Josephine Carson to an unmarried couple in the slums of St. Louis, Missouri. Her father abandoned the family before she was a year old, and at 16 months she was sent to live temporarily with her grandmother, while her mother began a new relationship and had three more children. She returned home but the family was so poor that the children scavenged in garbage cans for food and coal.

Her formal education ended in the fourth grade (age 10 or 11). On the streets she learned to dance, and at 13 she left home for good, to be a waitress. She married twice before she was 15. She had also joined the Jones Family Band, which was to be her entry into the professional stage. She was soon "discovered" in New York and appeared there in the Folies-Bergères, Ziegfeld Follies, and the famed Le Revue Nègre in Paris, all before she turned 19.

She found the stardom in France that was denied to her as a Black woman in the USA, and in the mid-1930s she settled in there permanently, soon married a wealthy French citizen and became naturalized. During World War II she entertained Allied troops and worked in intelligence for the French Resistance which earned her the Légion d'Honneur and the Rosette de la Résistance. She was married for the fourth time in 1947, to band leader Jo Bouillon, although she also had a number lesbian relationships. She and Bouillon adopted 12 or 13 children of different ethnic backgrounds: their Rainbow Tribe. Her final years saw considerable financial problems, including bankruptcy, and she continued to work until only a few days before her death, to earn the money to support her large family (her husband had left her years before for Argentina because of her inability to control her spending).


Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, 1993-97
Dictionary of American Biography
Baker, Jean-Claude, and Chase, Chris. Josephine: The Hungry Heart. (New York: Random House, 1993)
Schroeder, Alan. Josephine Baker. (New York: Chelsea House, 1991) (Black Americans of Achievement)
Haney, Lynn. Naked at the Feast: A Biography of Josephine Baker. (New York: Parkwest Publications, 1997)
"Josephine Baker: The Life She Lived and the Legend She Became." [Includes portraits]. Available at:
Josephine Baker Estate. "Josephine Baker: Biography." Available at:
Brooke, Aslan. "Proud History: Josephine Baker." Includes portrait]. Available at:


20th Century
Military and Defense
Music and Dance
Social Services and Social Sciences
Sexuality: Gay Men, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transsexuals
Adoptees/fosterees Who Are/were Also Adopters or Foster Parents
Ethnic or Religious Identity Confused or Concealed, Racism
Poor Educational Opportunities, Self-taught
Financial Problems, Poverty, Bankruptcy
Birth or Infancy
Child Ran Away or Left Home to Work
Sent for Adoption/Fostering when Parent Began New Relationship, Conflict With Step-parent
Very Poor (Financially) Adoptive or Foster Families
Temporary Care
Child in and out of Care
Unmarried Mother
Parents Separated or Divorced
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