Baker, who was married and divorced four times, developed a close friendship with American artist Robert Brady. Late in life, after divorcing her fourth husband Jo Bouillon, she sought companionship and friendship on a more platonic level. Brady felt the same, so in September of 1973, during a trip to Acapulco, Mexico, the duo entered an empty church, and exchanged marriage vows. No clergy were present, and it was not a legally binding marriage. She told few people about it, fearing ridicule from the press, but it was an important bond that Baker and Brady maintained for the rest of her life.
In her later years, Josephine Baker fell on hard times. She lost nearly everything, and she and the children of her ‘Rainbow Tribe’ were on the verge of becoming homeless, when Grace Kelly, by then Princess Grace of Monaco, stepped in to save her friend, by smoothing things over with creditors. Baker lost her chateau in France, but Princess Grace saw to it that she had a roof over her head by arranging a villa for her in Monaco. The Princess, along with her husband, Prince Rainier, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, also financed a revue celebrating 50 years of Baker’s career, that opened to rave reviews in Paris.
Josephine Baker’s highly acclaimed revue in 1975 proved to be her last hurrah. It opened on April 8th, 1975, with a performance at the Bobino music hall in Paris – where most of the biggest names of 20th century French music had performed. The show, titled Josephine a Bobino 1975, celebrated 50 years of her entertainment career, and was a smashing success. Demand for seats was so high, that foldout chairs had to be added to accommodate the throngs, who included Diana Ross, Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger, Liza Minnelli, and other celebrities. Four days later, she was found lying in a coma in her bed, surrounded by newspapers containing glowing reviews of the revue. She had suffered a brain hemorrhage, and died on April 12th, 1975.
In recognition of her wartime heroic exploits and contributions to France, Josephine Baker had been named a Chevalier of the Legion d’honeur by Charles de Gaulle. Among the medals awarded her by the French military were the Croix de Guerre and the Medal of Resistance with Rosette. Upon her death, her funeral became the occasion for a huge procession, and Baker became the first – and only – American woman to receive full French military honors at her burial, complete with an honor guard and gun salutes.
Dance historians credited Josephine Baker with being the Beyonce of her day, and with revolutionizing onstage performances. In her day, she was actually bigger than Beyonce, who paid Baker tribute in 2006 by performing her bana dance in the Radio City Music Hall. Baker’s legacy extends beyond her public career, and her private life seems to influence celebrities to this day. In 2003, Angelina Jolie cited Baker and The Rainbow Tribe as the model for the multiracial and multicultural family she was then beginning to create through adoption.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading