Keri Hilson‘s latest video, “Pretty Girl Rock,” takes a trip through the decades, featuring inspiration from a bevy of legendary “pretty girl” stars, including Doris Day, Diana Ross, TLC, Janet Jackson, and Josephine Baker.
If you’re one of Hilson’s young fans who may not be particularly familiar with Baker’s legacy, allow us to educate you. Josephine Baker was the first African-American movie star — in fact, the arguably the first African-American to become a world-famous artist.
Born in 1906 as Freda McDonald, Baker worked for an abusive white woman as a child and was living on the streets of St. Louis by the age of 12. To raise money, she danced on a street corner, and was eventually recruited to the vaudeville stage at 15. Ultimately she moved to France, where she found fame as an exotic dancer who appeared in several successful films.
Baker is often credited as a muse for Langston Hughes, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and Christian Dior. (Not a bad resume, huh?)
Her success was so profound that when the Nazis invaded France, they didn’t want to cause her harm. Baker, whose husband was Jewish, became a spy, smuggling secrets within her sheet music. After the war, she supported the American Civil Rights movement, refusing to perform for segregated audiences and adopting 12 children of varying races — she was the Angelina Jolie of her time.
Baker fell into a coma in 1975, having had a cerebral hemorrhage in her bed while surrounded by newspapers containing glowing reviews of her final performance. She died after being taken to the hospital.
Keri Hilson isn’t the first to honor Baker in a music video – Whitney Houston paid tribute to her in “I’m Your Baby Tonight” and every time you see a woman in a banana skirt, like the one in the “Baby Got Back” video, Baker was the one who got there first.