Top 5 LGBT Artists that Changed My Life
4. Josephine Baker
The first time I actively knew about the beauty and art of the naked human form was when I caught a glimpse of a biopic starring Lynn Whitfield. Her big smile and white teeth, her elegant body, the way she moved. I was completely and utterly ruined. The muse in question was Josephine Baker. At that point I wanted to know any and everything I could about her.
Born in St. Louis, Baker became one of the most renowned figures of beauty in the late 20s through the 30s. Ernest Hemingway is even quoted as saying she’s the “most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” She was an instrumental part of the Harlem Renaissance in the 20s and performed at the Plantation Club in the chorus. It was her trip to France that saw her become a prominent figure in society. Fluent in French, she was able to transcend the stereotypes of how Black women were portrayed and what actual beauty was. When she danced, the world stopped, her body in constant motion and unbridled passionate expression. She was proud of her body, proud of the autonomy she had over it and the power she held over men.
What also impressed me was how accepting she was of her sexuality. Having had relationships with both men and women, Baker made it very clear that she loved the feel of human contact, basked in the beauty of relating to another person physically. She was also vocal about the racism Black entertainers suffered while performing at all White clubs — being able to perform there but not so much as use the restroom.
Her strength and beauty appealed to me so strongly at such a young age. It very well may have been seeing her portrayal on television that secured my belief in who I am. Knowing (as I did at eight) and owning that knowledge are two different things. Josephine Baker opened my heart to that truth.