Freda Josephine McDonald, AKA Josephine Baker, was working as a maid by the age of 8 and married by the time she was 13. But the widespread racism in the United States in the early 20th Century was too oppressive for the expressive Baker, and she accepted an invitation to perform in Paris, where she eventually relocated and became a French citizen.
La Baker, as she came to be known, always lived to extremes. She became the toast of segregated France; she was called a “Negro wench” by the New York Times. Through it all, she shimmied and shook until dying from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1975 at the age of 68.
The singer, dancer, and actress went through many stages, including poverty and stardom several times over, but she always maintained an air of showmanship — even when begging for money in the streets of France before her last comeback. Naomi Wilzig, owner/curator of the World Erotic Art Museum (1205 Washington Ave., Miami Beach), home to a new exhibit celebrating Baker’s life, says of the infamous Josephine: “She performed both elaborately costumed and in the nude, which made her a subject of erotic art.” Baker once remarked, “I improvised, crazed by the music. Even my teeth and eyes burned with fever. Each time I leaped, I seemed to touch the sky, and when I regained earth, it seemed to be mine alone.” Sounds pretty damn erotic to us.
Feb. 11-March 3, 2013