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Josephine Baker. American-born dancer & cabaret performer who was a dominant figure in the night life of Paris in the 1920s and '30s. Nude postcard.

Josephine Baker. American-born dancer & cabaret performer. Postcard.

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Josephine Baker (1906 – 1975) was an American expatriate entertainer and actress. She became a French citizen in 1937. Most noted as a singer, Baker also was a celebrated dancer in her early career. She was given the nicknames the "Bronze Venus" or the "Black Pearl", as well as the "Créole Goddess" in anglophone nations. In France, she has always been known as "La Baker".

Baker was the first African American 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 (she was offered the leadership of the movement by Coretta Scott King in 1968 following Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, but turned it down), for assisting the French Resistance during World War II and for being the first American-born woman to receive the French military honor, the Croix de Guerre.

Baker's success coincided (1925) with the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs, which gave us the term "Art Deco", and also with a renewal of interest in ethnic forms of art, including African. Baker represented one aspect of this fashion. She was very creative and loved sequins and feathers.

In later shows in Paris she was often accompanied on stage by her pet cheetah, Chiquita, who was adorned with a diamond collar. The cheetah frequently escaped into the orchestra pit, where it terrorized the musicians, adding another element of excitement to the show.

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. Whitney Houston pays tribute to Baker in her "I'm Your Baby Tonight" music video to represent the Harlem Renaissance.

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