June 03
Josephine Baker's Birthday

Josephine Baker was an American-born French expatriate entertainer and singer who became a French citizen in 1937, in part, because of the absence of racism there.. She was most noted as a singer, although in her early career she was a celebrated dancer. Josephine was the first black female entertainer to break through racial prejudice in Europe and the first black woman to star in films (
Zou-Zou in 1934 and Princess Tam-Tam in 1935).

Josephine started her career as dancing in vaudeville when she was  15. After a few years as a dancer in New York, Josephine opened in Paris at the Théatre des Champs-Élysées, where she became an instant success for her erotic dancing and for appearing practically nude on stage. She later stared at the Folies Bergères where she performed the Danse sauvage, wearing only a necklace and a girdle of bananas.

In 1951, Josephine was refused service at the famous Stork Club in New York City. After yelling at columnist Walter Winchell, another patron of the club, for not coming to her assistance, she was accused by Winchell of communist and fascist sympathies. Never as popular in the US as in Europe, Josephine found herself fighting the rumors begun by Winchell. She responded by crusading for racial equality, refusing to entertain in any club or theater that was not integrated, thereby breaking the color bar at many establishments. In 1963, she spoke at the March on Washington at the side of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Josephine had her greatest song hit, "J'ai deux amours" in 1931 and became a muse for contemporary authors, painters, designers, and sculptors including Langston Hughes, Ernest Hemingway  F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and Christian Dior. In the words of Shirley Bassey, who cited Baker as her primary influence, " ... she went from a 'petite danseuse sauvage' with a decent voice to 'la grande diva magnifique' ... I swear in all my life I have never seen, and probably never shall see again, such a spectacular singer and performer."

During World War II, Josephine demonstrated her loyalty to her adopted country by participating in the Underground and smuggling intelligence to the resistance in Portugal coded within her sheet music. After the war, for her underground activity, she was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Légion d'Honneur by General Charles de Gaulle, and also the Rosette of the Résistance. She was also immortalized by a wire sculpture by Alexander Calder in 1927.

We celebrate Josephine's birthday with a banana soufflé which we suggest pairing with The Josephine Baker Story (1992) an Emmy-award TV biopic on Baker's life with Lynn Whitfield as Josephine.

Banana Soufflé
This is the ideal recipe to commemorate Baker's famous Danse sauvage wearing only a necklace and a girdle of bananas.


Banana Mixture Ingredients
Rum Sauce Ingredients
2 TB butter
2 TB cornstarch
1 cup mashed ripe bananas, (3 medium)
4 TB rum
1 TB fresh lemon juice
1 TB grated fresh lemon peel
4 eggs, separated
1 additional egg white
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 TB rum

  1. In a large saucepan melt butter  and  blend in the cornstarch. Add the mashed bananas. Cook the mixture 2 to 3 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly. Stir in rum, lemon juice and peel. Remove from heat.
  2. Beat the 5 egg whites until stiff peaks form; set aside. With same beaters, beat egg yolks and sugar until light and thick. Stir into banana mixture.
  3. Fold in the reserved beaten eggs whites. Turn into a buttered 2 quart soufflé dish. Bake at 350º F for 30 to 40 minutes, or until center is set.
  4. While soufflé is baking, prepare the Rum Sauce.  In the top of a double boiler, mix together butter and confectioners' sugar. Stir in the egg and rum. Place over boiling water and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. Set aside.
  5. When soufflé is done, remove from oven and serve immediately with rum sauce

Serves 6

© 2011 Gordon Nary and Tyler Stokes