Bella Donna: Josephine Baker

This week's Bella Donna is a true legend. Most people know of Josephine Baker as an internationally famous performer, but her life was so much more complex than you'd expect from looking at her performances. Born in 1906, she began dancing at age 13. Although she found some work in the United States, racial prejudices kept her from performing in certain venues.

In France, however, she became a sensation. She starred in three films, sang in an opera, and became a muse for creative minds such as Langston Hughes and Christian Dior. Moreover, she helped the Résistance by smuggling documents in her sheet music, an action for which she was awarded the highest French military honor, the Croix de Guerre. After the war, she adopted 12 orphans from all over the world; she also became a vocal supporter of the American Civil Rights movement, refusing to perform before segregated audiences and speaking at the historic March on Washington. She died in 1975, one day after starring in a revue that celebrated her 50 years in entertainment.

To see a video of Josephine dancing, read more.