Josephine Baker

Posted: August 5, 2008 in Espionage, Whom You Least Suspect, WWII
Tags: ,

Mention the name Josephine Baker (1906-1975) and most people have no problem conjuring the image of a sex-bomb, bob-bon, veiled in bananas while working her Mojo on the audiences of France during the Vaudeville Era. However, as you might have guessed, since she is being mentioned in this blog, the broad was also a spy.

Born in Missouri, the granddaughter of slaves, Baker escaped to New York for a life in showbiz. “La Baker” made a raging name for herself during the Harlem Renaissance, but the bird flew the coup for the much more tolerant nation of France where she did not suffer the same prejudices she experienced in America and became a highly celebrated cabaret performer.

Having become a French citizen in 1937, “The Black Pearl” was feeling rather protective of her adoptive land when Germany invaded during WWII. Baker’s fame was such that even the notorious Nazi Party allowed her performing freedoms during the occupation. Good thing too, because Baker exploited the situation by smuggling intelligence out of the country from the French Resistance coded in her sheet music, all while performing for the troops in North Africa and the Middle East.

I think we should all take a moment and appreciate the danger of this situation because given how other spy-dames, white spy-dames, were executed for the cause, I doubt that Baker’s celebrity would have saved her from some truly horrific retribution from the Gestapo should she have been discovered. Actually, one can imagine the retribution would have been that much worse for the color of her skin. But Baker felt she owed it to the country she had adopted, the country that had given her the freedoms she never would have back America, land of the free, home of the brave.

It’s a great a terrible shame that when most reminisce on the life of the “Creole Goddess”, they remember only the scandalous or outrageous things like Baker’s one dozen adopted children or her pet cheetahs. But Baker wasn’t just a Pop-Tart of the time or another forgettable celebutant, she was a trailblazer for civil rights and possessed great bravery deemed worthy enough for the Croix de Guerre, Legion de H’onneur, and the Rosette de Resistance. A broad who put it all out on the line, not only during war, but her entire life.

Think about that next time you buy a banana.

  1. endithinks says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. I had no idea that Josephine Baker was a spy. I mostly think about her as another example of the African American exodus to France after the Harlem Renaissance. I will do more research. Thanks again.

  2. […] connections allow them access to places everyday schmoes can only dream of (like a certain Miss Baker  during WWII). It makes me wonder though about Princess Stephanie Julianne Richter zu […]

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