Josephine Baker

josephine baker

Josephine Baker was a well known popular American singer, dancer, and actress in the early 20th century. She was born in Saint Louis, Missouri in 1906, when she was an adult she moved to France to pursue her passions in the arts and start her career.  Besides her title of being one of the best jazz female  singers of all time, she was also the first to star in a major motion film called “Zouzou” in 1934. She was multi-talented and was able to balance her career as a singer and actress quite well.


She is also known for her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. As she became more popular, she was requested to perform for audiences all over France and America. But, she refused to perform anywhere where there would be segregated audiences.

The period from the end of the First World War until the start of the Depression in 1929 is known as the “Jazz Age”. Jazz had become one of the most popular music genres in America thanks to artists such as Josephine Baker, Fletcher Henderson, Paul Whiteman, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong (just to name a few). When people think of Jazz music the first thing that comes to mind is New Orleans since that is where this music genre originated from.Many New Orleans jazzmen had moved to Chicago during the late 1910s in search of employment. For a period of time Chicago was known as the Center of Jazz Music until the end of the 1920s, that’s when New York was the new center of jazz music. New York had plenty of venues that welcomed jazz artists like Josephine Baker to come in perform in the city.

Jospehine Baker”Bye Bye Black Bird”

One song sang by Josephine Baker that really caught my attention was “Bye Bye Black Bird”. The song was published in 1926 by the American composer Ray Henderson and lyricist Mort Dixon. This song was first recorded by Gene Austin in 1926. But, after listening to the record to me personally it did not have the same effect as listening to the Josephine Baker version of this song. According to some articles I read the song is about a prostitute who has decided to give up on the business and move back home to live with her mother. I’m not sure how true this is but Josephine Baker is known for being edgy and willing to take risks (Being known for her exotic dancing performances with her pet cheetah and also for the exposing clothing she wore, she was basically nude).

Gene Austin version

The Josephine Baker version is much more upbeat and catchy (The Gene Austin version is catchy also). The lyrics are the same from the original song but the tempo is much quicker. I felt that the way she sung the song I could picture people during the 1920s and 30s actually dancing to it in a jazz club. Popular dances such as the Lindy Hop, The Charleston, Fox Trot, Kangaroo Hop, Chicken Scratch, Turkey Trot, Castle Walk, and Tango. The Lindy Hop, The Charleston, and the Tango were the only three dances that I recognized of the 1920s/30s jazz era. The Lindy Hop consisted of men swinging their female dance partners up into the air. The Charleston dance became popular in 1923, the dance originated from African Americans in Charleston, North Carolina.The Charleston dance became extremely popular in the 1920s, especially with Flappers. The dance could be done by oneself, with a partner, or in a group.The dance uses both swaying arms and the fast movement of the feet.


Instruments associated with jazz  music are trumpet, saxophone, drums, piano, trombone, clarinet, and double bass. You can definitely hear the use some of these instruments in the song Bye Bye Black Bird, such as the piano, saxophone, trumpet, and double bass. Many artists have recorded this song and there is a noticeable chord change made in the song depending on the artist singing it. In the original version “the tune stays true to the tonal center (F), and never ventures far from the I chord.” Musicians usually  substitute and add chord changes  to create more movement. Even today this song is commonly played in the key of F major by instrumentalists. Bye Bye Blackbird was a popular song which is why so any artists have re-recorded the song and performed it not only in the 1920s/30s during the jazz era, but even today. If you happen to go to a jazz club don’t be surprised if you here this tune come on.

This is a video of the popular jazz dances during this era.