Today is Februrary 1, the official beginning of Black History Month. Every day this month, I will feature a snapshot of black beauty history. Expect to see images, products, tastemakers, artists, models, and films that have shaped the world of fashion and beauty today.
I can still remember like it was yesterday. I may have been 16 years old. I came stumbling home from a party, it was late at night and the house was quiet. I turned on the TV, and in flipping channels I came across BET. In this era of BET programming, after regular shows were over, they’d show all kinds of random historic shorts. And on this particular night, it was a Josephine Baker short. It was a scene from ZouZou, where she swang in a giant golden cage and sang like a beautiful bird. It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen.
Seeing that brief clip stuck with me. It inspired me to discover my own beauty – I was going through an unhappy phase where I hated my body and my skin and wanted desperately to be pretty but covered it up. I felt immediately inspired to look at myself differently. And that film clip lingered with me as I created this blog. I wrote about ZouZou in my second blog post, on August 15, 2006. So it’s fitting that this moment in Josephine Baker’s career should kick off my Black History Month tribute – without ZouZou, I might not have found beauty inspiration until later on in life.
“The French film ZouZou (1934) is a rare opportunity to see one of the great African-American entertainers of the 20th century. Josephine Baker, known primarily as a singer/dancer on the stage, cabaret, and music halls, made only a handful of films, and ZouZou was her personal favorite, the closest, she said, to whom she was in real life.” — via TCM.
Josephine Baker was a beauty icon of a bygone era. A star who came to represent a kind of playful sexuality, dancing topless in a skirt made of bananas.
She was a rare talent of stage and screen. She was an activist who was awarded the Legion of Honor for her work during WWII, and used her power to speak out during the civil rights movement. She was a no-nonsense mother who raised her Rainbow Tribe with warmth, love and her own unique rules. She was a beauty icon on her own terms. Although she passed away in 1975, she continues to inspire to this day on so many levels.
This is credited as one of her final performances – the Royal Variety Performance of 1974.
For more on Josephine Baker, check out the following links:
Thank you for shaping black beauty history, La Baker.