BY Michelle Garcia

September 23 2009 5:45 PM ET

Josephine Baker (1906–1975)
This St. Louis native got her start when she escaped her May-December marriage (her first marriage) in 1920 to join a black vaudeville touring company. The legendary dancer and singer is well known for challenging racism and sexual repression. While she found herself restricted by segregation in the United States, she found a more accepting atmosphere in France. During World War II she worked with underground anti-Nazi resistance forces and entertained Allied troops. As her career went on, Baker also perfected the style of performance that would later be known as vogueing. While the performer was known for her sexual conquests of men, she also had lady lovers through her life, including French novelist Colette and possibly Frida Kahlo.

Listen to her sing "Bye Bye Blackbird" (1927).

Tags: Art

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