was an American-born French expatriate entertainer and singer. She became a French citizen in 1937. Baker was most noted as a singer, while in her early career she was a celebrated dancer. She was given the nicknames the “Black Venus” or the “Black Pearl”, as well as the “Créole Goddess” in anglophone nations, while in France she has always been known in the old theatrical tradition as “La Baker”.Joséphine Baker is noted for being the first woman of African descent to star in a major motion picture, to integrate an American concert hall, and to become a world famous entertainer. She is also noted for her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and for being an inspiration to generations of African-American female entertainers.
She was born Freda josephine McDonald on June 3rd, 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Carrie McDonald. Her father’s identity is debated. Her father is identified as vaudeville drummer Eddie Carson by the official biography of her estate, but according to Jean-Claude Baker’s much researched biography:
|“||… (Josephine Baker’s) father was identified (on the birth certificate) simply as “Edw” … I think Josephine’s father was white—so did Josephine, so did her family … people in St. Louis say that (Josephine’s mother) had worked for a German family (around the time she became pregnant). (Carrie) let people think Eddie Carson was the father, and Carson played along … (but) Josephine knew better.||”|
Josephine Baker’s true ethnic background is unknown. Her mother Carrie was adopted in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1886 by Richard and Elvira McDonald, both of whom were former slaves of both African and Native American descent,
She started her career as a street performer, dancing in the street as a child. She entered vaudeville joining the St. Louis Chorus at 15. She then headed to 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 and also 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 Théatre 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 Bergères, setting the standard for her future acts. She performed the Danse sauvage, wearing a costume consisting of a skirt made of a string of artificial bananas. Josephine Baker’s success coincided (1925) with the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs, which for one gave the name “Art Deco” and were also a renewal of interest in ethnic forms of art, including African. Therefore Josephine Baker also represented one aspect of this fashion.
In later shows in Paris she was often accompanied on stage 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 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 the racial prejudices common to the era. Ernest Hemingway called her ” … the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” In addition to being a musical star, Baker also starred in three films which found success only in Europe: the silent film Siren of the Tropics (1927), Zouzou (1934) and Princesse Tamtam (1935). Although Josephine Baker is often credited as a movie star, her starring roles ended with Princesse Tamtam in 1935.
At this time she also scored her greatest song hit, “J’ai deux amours” (1931) and became a muse for contemporary authors, painters, designers, and sculptors including Langston Hughes, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and Christian Dior.
Under the management of Giuseppe Pepito Abatino — a Sicilian stonemason who passed himself off as a Sicilian count, Baker’s stage and public persona, as well as her singing voice, went through a transformation. In 1934 she took the lead in a revival of Jacques Offenbach’s 1875 opera La créole at the Théâtre Marigny in the Champs-Élysées of Paris, which premiered in December of that year for a six month run. In preparation for her performances she went through months of training with a vocal coach.
In the words of Shirley Bassey, who cited Baker as her primary influence, ” … she went from a ‘petite danseuse sauvage’ with a decent voice to ‘la grande diva magnifique’ … I swear in all my life I have never seen, and probably never shall see again, such a spectacular singer and performer.”
Baker was so well known and popular with the French that even the Nazis, who occupied France during World War II, were hesitant to cause her harm. In turn, this allowed Baker to show loyalty to her adopted country by participating in the Underground, smuggling intelligence to the resistance in Portugal coded within her sheet music. After the war, for her underground activity, Baker was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Légion d’Honneur by General Charles de Gaulle, and also the Rosette of the Résistance.
Yet despite her popularity in France, she never obtained the same reputation at home. Upon a visit to the United States in 1936, she starred in a failed version of the Ziegfeld Follies (being replaced by Gypsy Rose Lee later in the run) her personal life similarly suffered, and she went through six marriages, some legal, some not. During this time, when Baker returned to the United States, she was allegedly at a dinner party and began to speak in French as well as English with a French accent. An African-American maid was reputed to tell her, “Honey, you is full of shit. Speak the way yo’ mouth was born.” She had the woman fired.
‘Her 1935-36 US performances received poor reviews, with the New York Times going so far as to call her a “Negro wench.” Baker returned to Paris in 1937, married Frenchman Jean Lion, and became a French citizen and permanent expatriate.’ 
In January 1966 she was invited by Fidel Castro to perform at the Teatro Musical de La Habana in Havana, Cuba. Her spectacular show in April of that year led to record breaking attendance.
In 1973, Josephine Baker opened at Carnegie Hall to a standing ovation.
Though based in France, she supported the American Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s. She protested in her own way against racism, adopting twelve multi-ethnic orphans, whom she called her “Rainbow Tribe.”  Her adopted children were: Akio (Korean son), Janot (Japanese son), Luis (Colombian son), Jarry (Finnish son), Jean-Claude (Canadian son), Moïse (French Jewish son), Brahim (Arab son), Marianne (French daughter), Koffi (Côte d’Ivoirean son), Mara (Venezuelan son), Noël (French son), Stellina (Moroccan daughter).
For some time she lived with all of her children and an enormous staff in a castle, Château de Milandes, in the Dordogne in France. Baker bore only one child herself, stillborn in 1941, an incident that precipitated an emergency hysterectomy.
She refused to perform for segregated audiences in the United States. Her insistence on mixed audiences helped to integrate shows in Las Vegas, Nevada.
In 1951, Baker made charges of racism against Sherman Billingsley’s Stork Club in New York, when she had been refused service. Actress Grace Kelly, who was at the club when this happened, rushed over to Baker, took her by the arm and stormed out with her entire party, vowing to never return (and she never did). The two women became close friends after the incident. A testament to their close friendship was made evident when Baker was near bankruptcy and was offered a villa and financial assistance by Kelly, (who by that time had become Princess Grace) and her husband Rainier III of Monaco.
She also worked with the NAACP. In 1963, she spoke at the March on Washington at the side of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Wearing her Free French uniform with her Legion of Honor decoration, she was the only woman to speak at the rally. After King’s assassination his widow, Coretta Scott King, approached Baker in Holland to ask if she would take her husband’s place as leader of the American Civil Rights Movement. After many days of thinking it over, Baker declined, stating that her children were ” … too young to lose their mother.”
On April 9, 1975, Baker starred in a retrospective revue at the Bobino in Paris — Josépine à Bobino 1975, celebrating her 50 years in show business. The revue, backed by Prince Rainier, Princess Grace, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis opened to rave reviews and became the rage of Paris. Demand for seating reached such an extent that fold-out chairs had to be added to accommodate spectators. The opening night audience included Prince Ranier and Princess Grace, Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger, Shirley Bassey, Diana Ross and Liza Minnelli.
On the morning of April 10 Baker was found lying peacefully in her bed surrounded by newspapers with glowing reviews of her performance. She had slipped into a coma. She was taken to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, where she died at the age of 68 on April 12, 1975. 
Her funeral was held at L’Église de la Madeleine.  Paris came to a standstill on the day of her funeral, and 20,000 filled the streets to watch her procession. She was interred at the Cimetière de Monaco.
Baker became the first American-born woman to receive the highest French military honor, the Croix de Guerre. “Place Joséphine Baker” in the Montparnasse Quarter of Paris was named in her honor. She has also been inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. The first swimming-pool over the Seine which has been launched for the 2006 edition of Paris-Plage, is named “Piscine Joséphine Baker” after her.
Baker’s sons, Jean-Claude and Jarry Baker, grew up to go into business together, running the restaurant ‘Chez Josephine’ on Theatre Row, 42nd Street, New York, which celebrates Josephine’s life and works. His mother’s proponent, Jackie Onassis was a regular patron at the restaurant, continuing to support Baker’s legacy.
Baker’s iconic performance style has also been influential. Diana Ross, a long-time admirer of Baker, performed in Bob Mackie-designed outfits similar to Baker’s and reenacted similar poses of the latter in many photo sessions. Baker’s banana skirt, in particular, has made numerous media appearance. A dancer wore one in Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s 1991 video for “Baby Got Back”, and Beyoncé wore one when performing “Déjà Vu” for CBS’s 2006 Fashion Rocks. During the Beyonce performance, images of a young Baker were projected on a large screen above the stage.
Also, in Tyler Perry’s book, Don’t Make A Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings, Madea says, “I used to work with Josephine Baker. I used to eat all those bananas she used to wear. She slipped and fell. That’s why she went to Paris.”
Provided by www.wikipedia.com