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From her beginnings in vaudeville, Josephine Baker exhibited a verve and sensuality that stood out even in a chorus line. Having grown up in poverty in St. Louis, she seized the opportunity in 1925 to travel to Paris in the Harlem music and dance ensemble La Revue Nègre. With a reputation for daring outfits and a performance style that was at once erotic and comic, Baker became a star. Ernest Hemingway, who regularly frequented the Club Joséphine, where Baker served as "hostess," called her "the most sensational woman anyone ever saw . . . or ever will." After the outbreak of World War II, Baker threw herself behind the Allied cause, working with refugees and performing for the troops. In later years she became a vocal civil rights proponent, insisting on integrated audiences wherever she performed.

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