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7Robots Fantastically Terrible Podcast ep23: Josephine Baker How Did She Feel About the Peel

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Episode 23: Josephine Baker! How did she feel about the peel?

Josephine Baker is most known for being a glamorous showgirl who wore her famous banana skirt in 1920s and ’30s. But she was so much more! As a child she survived the Red Summer and the East St. Louis Massacre in 1917 and poverty to dazzle audience from NYC to Paris. During WWII, she was a spy, a volunteer nurse and a pilot for the Red Cross, reached the level of lieutenant and won the Croix de Guerre for her part in the French resistance. She worked tirelessly for civil rights and was the only female speaker at the March on Washington in 1963. Josephine was an entertainer, civil rights activist, war hero and mother who never lost her courage or sense of humor.

Freda Josephine McDonald was born on June 3, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri. “Her mother, Carrie McDonald, was a washerwoman who had given up her dreams of becoming a music-hall dancer. Her father, Eddie Carson, was a vaudeville drummer. He abandoned Carrie and Josephine shortly after her birth. Carrie remarried soon thereafter and would have several more children in the coming years.

To help support her growing family, at age eight Josephine cleaned houses and babysat for wealthy white families, often being poorly treated. She briefly returned to school two years later before running away from home at age 13 and finding work as a waitress at a club. While working there, she married a man named Willie Wells, from whom she divorced only weeks later.

It was also around this time that Josephine first took up dancing, honing her skills both in clubs and in street performances, and by 1919 she was touring the United States with the Jones Family Band and the Dixie Steppers performing comedic skits. In 1921, Josephine married a man named Willie Baker, whose name she would keep for the rest of her life despite their divorce years later. In 1923, Baker landed a role in the musical Shuffle Along as a member of the chorus, and the comic touch that she brought to the part made her popular with audiences. Looking to parlay these early successes, Baker moved to New York City and was soon performing in Chocolate Dandies and, along with Ethel Waters, in the floor show of the Plantation Club, where again she quickly became a crowd favorite.” [more from Biography]

In the summer of 1925, Paris had a newfound obsession with jazz and anything exotic. People flocked to see Josephine Baker perform at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. As she descended from a palm tree wearing her now famous banana skirt, she became the biggest black female star in the world over night.

Josephine Baker was so popular in France, she sold her own beauty products including Bakerfix hair pomade for that slick down look and even Bakeroil skin-darkening lotion all over Europe. Yes, indeed. European women were darkening their skin to look like their idol.

Josephine Baker's Baker Fix and Bakeroil


“When World War II broke out, Baker joined the French Resistance, helping to smuggle out refugees and carrying messages written in invisible ink on her sheet music. She entertained troops and performed benefit concerts in North Africa and the Middle East.” [more from Black History Now…]

La Résistante! 

“In fact, her fame made her the perfect spy. When Baker would travel Europe while touring, she obviously had to carry large quantities of sheet music with her. What customs officials never realized, though, was that a lot of this music actually had secret messages written on it in invisible ink…On some occasions, Baker would smuggle secret photos of German military installations out of enemy territory by pinning them to her underwear. This invaluable intelligence work eventually helped Baker rise to the rank of lieutenant in the Free French Air Force, and when the war was over she received both the Croix de Guerre (a first for an American woman) and the Medal of the Resistance in 1946 from French General Charles de Gaulle“, who later became the President of France. [more from Mental Floss…]

Fantastically Terrible Character or Creature

This week’s Fantastically Terrible Character or Creature is Cheval Bayard. The following was taken from “Spirits, Fairies, Leprechauns, and Goblins: An Encyclopedia” by Carol Rose [read more…]

“In the folklore of Normandy, France, this is a type of water spirit that may appear as a human or as a horse. The Cheval Bayard inhabits the banks of rivers, pools and marshland. The spirit entices foolhardy humans to attempt to ride it, but as soon as they get on its back, the spirit will toss them into the water or the bushes.”

Once the sprite, in the form of a handsome young man, had begun seeing a peasant woman whose husband got wise to the little trysts. The jealous husband came up with a plan. He dressed up in his wife’s clothes and placed a bar of iron into the kitchen fire. Then he sat at her spinning wheel and waited for him. Soon enough, the spirit showed up and sweet talked who he thought was the woman and asked for her name. The husband replied, “Myself,” then hurled the red-hot iron bar at him. The Cheval Bayard shouted for his spirit friends to come and help him. They quickly arrived and asked who was attacking him. He replied, “Myself did it!”. They shook their heads and told him to beat it! They left him there with a red-hot migraine and a bruised ego.    

Crochet Josephine Baker

I’m excited and honored to announce that my Petite Josephine dolls will be available at Josephine Baker’s former home – Château des Milandes!  I’m over the moon!

★ If you’d like your one of a kind, hand made crochet Josephine, click here.
★ To see all of my toys and free patterns, visit my Crochet Shop (toys and free patterns)

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