african american singer

Josephine Baker (3 June 1906 – 12 April 1975) 

Born Freda Josephine McDonald. French vedette, singer and entertainer, whose career was centered primarily in Europe, mostly in her adoptive country of France. During her early career she was renowned as a dancer, and was among the most celebrated performers to headline the lavish revues of the Folies Bergère in Paris. Her performance in the revue Un Vent de Folie in 1927 caused a sensation in Paris; her costume, consisting of only a girdle of bananas, became her most iconic image and a symbol of the jazz age and the 1920s. She was celebrated by artists and intellectuals of the era, who variously dubbed her the “Black Pearl”, the “Bronze Venus”, and the “Creole Goddess”. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, she renounced her U.S. citizenship and became a French national after her marriage to French industrialist Jean Lion in 1937.

Baker was the first person of African descent to become a world-famous entertainer and to star in a major motion picture, the 1934 Marc Allégret film Zouzou. Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences in the United States and is noted for her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. (Wikipedia)

From our stacks: Cover detail from Les mémoires de Joséphine Baker. Recueillis et éditées par Marcel Sauvage. Paris, Corrêa [1949]

Happy Birthday Marian Anderson! (February 27, 1897 – April 8, 1993)

View of contralto Marian Anderson. Printed on front: “Delar, N.Y.” Handwritten on front: “Marian Anderson.” Stamped on back: “Marian Anderson.”

  • Courtesy of the E. Azalia Hackley Collection of African Americans in the Performing Arts, Detroit Public Library

Portrait of soprano Veronica Tyler. Printed on front: “James J. Kriegsmann, N.Y.” Stamped on back: “Veronica Tyler, soprano.”

  • Courtesy of the E. Azalia Hackley Collection of African Americans in the Performing Arts, Detroit Public Library

Josephine Baker was a famous African American dancer, singer, and actress born in 1906 St. Louis, Missouri. Sadly she was not appreciated in the US, so she went to Paris in the 1920s, where her amazing talent, charm, and charisma were such a smashing success that she became a movie star there. Oh, and she had a pet cheetah named Chiquita, who often escaped the stage to terrorize the musicians.

Even more badass - during WWII, she served as a spy to the French military intelligence, collecting info about German troop locations at all the fancy parties she went to. She pinned those notes, written in invisible ink on her sheet music, inside her underwear. How cool is that.

She also contributed to the Civil Rights movement, and refused to perform for segregated audiences during her tours in the US.

Pearl Bailey (March 29, 1918 – August 17, 1990)

View of singer and actress Pearl Bailey in a scene from the musical “Hello, Dolly!” Bailey sits on trolley holding a newspaper. Stamped on back: “Direct from Broadway, David Merrick presents America’s greatest musical. Pearl Bailey in Hello, Dolly! Co-starring Cab Calloway. Directed and choreographed by Gower Champion.”

  • Courtesy of the E. Azalia Hackley Collection of African Americans in the Performing Arts, Detroit Public Library