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josephine baker

While Jim Crow laws were reeking havoc on the lives of African Americans in the South, a massed exodus of Southern musicians, particularly from New Orleans, spread the seeds of Jazz as far north as New York City. A new genre of music produced fissures in the walls of racial discrimination thought to be impenetrable. Musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, “King” Oliver and Fletcher Henderson performed to the first desegregated audiences. Duke Ellington starred in the first primetime radio program to feature an African American artist. And a quirky little girl from Missouri conquered an entire country enthralled by her dark skin, curvaceous body and dynamic personality. Josephine Baker was more than a Jazz musician. She embodied the freedom and expressiveness of that which is known as Jazz. Born Josephine Freda McDonald on June 3, 1906, Josephine Baker was the product of a “footloose merchant of whom the family saw little, and a mother [who] supported herself and the children in a slum hovel by taking in laundry.” # Later, her mother had three children with another man, Arthur Martin: Richard, Margaret and Willie Mae. Ms. Baker was enrolled in a school in St. Louis until the age of six. When the family was experiencing financial difficulties, she was sent to perform domestic chores in the homes of white families. “When only seven, she worked for a woman who frequently beat her, made her sleep in the cellar, and who, after Josephine accidentally broke some china, thrust her hands into scalding water. Neighbors, hearing her agonizing screams, called the police and she was taken to the hospital.”# By the age of ten, she had worked as a kitchen helper, baby-sitter and maid.In early adolescence, Josephine Baker went to a vaudeville house at least once a week to watch the dancers and learn innovative dance steps. While still in elementary school, she began dancing part-time in a...

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