Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

December 12, 1935

On December 12, 1935, the Philadelphia Tribune ran a headshot of Josephine Baker noting that the singer was slated to pop “into the limelight with a new dance creation—the ‘Congo,’ to be introduced by the international star in Ziegfeld Follies, to open soon.” Describing the dance, Baker told newspaper reporters, “Its roots are deep in Africa.” The promotional photos for Baker’s performance in the 1936 Ziegfeld Follies suggest that her costume was a less risqué take on the skirt of artificial bananas she wore when she performed her “Danse Sauvage” in Paris a decade earlier.

The 1936 Ziegfeld Follies, which in addition to Baker featured Fannie Brice, Bob Hope, and others, received mixed reviews. The Philadelphia Tribune was particularly annoyed that Baker seemed too cosmopolitan to acknowledge her early days in Philadelphia: “Although the artist, then plain ‘Jo’ Baker, got her start in Philadelphia in the colored district, no one would have known it from the way she very frigidly ignored the existence of such a place...About the same time as the show arrived in Philadelphia there appeared an interview in which Miss Baker said that her father was Spanish and her mother half Indian, which left the other half colored. This she said in denying the fact that she was colored or anything near colored. With the advent of the show there were many in this city who could remember when ‘Jo’ Baker’s father had a restaurant on South street near Sixteenth and when the star herself, then an unknown, entertained at ‘Vic’ Hamilton’s old place. Residents near ‘Mom’ Charleston’s on Bainbridge street remember when Miss Baker would stop at that well known boarding house for stage people....It might seem that in Europe where color isn’t the handicap it is here, that Miss Baker does not mind being known as a Negro, but over here it is something else again. And who can blame her?” (Click to view article PDF.)

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