In October 1951, Grace Kelly, just beginning to make a name for herself, decided to have a night out on the town at famous Manhattan nightclub, Stork Club. Also at the club that night was Josephine Baker, internationally renowned singer, dancer and famous ex-pat who was in the States to perform a series of concerts after years living in France.
Unfortunately, Baker wound up leaving the eatery after an hour of non-service; she stormed out claiming she had never received her dinner because of her race. Some dispute this, but one person who did not was Kelly. Observing the scene, she was shocked and left, too. From Mental Floss:
When the racist staff refused to wait on Baker, Kelly, who was dining with a large party of her own, flew into a rage and walked out of the club in support of Baker.
From that moment on, Kelly and Baker were close friends. In fact, when the Rainbow Tribe’s chateau was on the rocks financially, Kelly—who by that time had become Princess Grace of Monaco—tried to bail Baker out with her creditors. When Baker ended up losing the house, Kelly didn’t abandon her friend. Instead, she arranged for the singer to have a villa in Monaco.
Protesters outside the Stork Club after Josephine went public with claims of racial discrimination. (Image Source)
In Donald Spoto’s book, “High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly”, he describes the incident:
… she was so outraged by this rank display of racism that she rushed over to Baker— whom she had never met— took her by the arm and stormed out with her own entire group of friends, telling the press she would never return to the Stork Club; she never did. Grace Kelly and Josephine Baker became friends on the spot.
The incident at the Stork Club earned her some unpleasant epithets then widely used in America for those who befriended nonwhite people. But Grace proudly accompanied Josephine Baker on her return to Europe that season…
Grace and Josephine in April 1975. (Image Source)
Years after the infamous racist incident at the Stork Club, Baker’s career foundered in bankruptcy. Hounded by creditors, the singer was ill and in desperate circumstances by the end of 1974. When she heard of this, Grace brought her from Paris to Monaco, where she offered Josephine a villa and financial support for her and her dozen adopted children. Grace was a constant visitor to her old friend, encouraging her to return to the stage in a revue of her great songs. Grace then enlisted the participation of Jacqueline Onassis, and together they financed Baker’s triumphant Paris comeback in early April 1975. The Rainiers were at the sold-out performance, along with many admiring celebrities.
It was in the midst of this comeback that Josephine would suffer a fatal cerebral hemorrhage, and once again, Grace was there.
After the funeral at the Church of the Madeleine, Grace paid all expenses and arranged for the remains to be brought down to Monaco for burial.
What started as a stand against racism blossomed into a deep, lifelong friendship. Two beautiful, talented ladies: the dancer and the princess. Read the whole thing and much more on the life and times of the late actress in Spotto’s biography available here.