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Article: Fun Facts About Our Favorite Harlem Icons: Josephine, Langston, Billie, and Baldwin

Fun Facts About Our Favorite Harlem Icons: Josephine, Langston, Billie, and Baldwin

To celebrate Black History Month, we compiled our favorite fun facts about 4 of our favorite Harlem icons: Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes, Billie Holiday, and James Baldwin. 

You might have heard some of these facts before, but we hope that you'll be able to discover something new and interesting about these incredible figures!


Josephine Baker was born into poverty in St. Louis in 1906 and rose up to become a film goddess, dancer, WWII spy, and civil rights activist. She moved to France in 1925 and became one of the first black international stars, earning the nicknames "Black Pearl" and "Bronze Venus."

She is also the inspiration for our "Josephine" luxury candles!


During World War II, Josephine courageously served as a French spy against the Nazis, using her fame and star power as a cover. Her contributions earned her the highest military awards: the Legion of Honor and the French Resistance medal, the Croix de Guerre. It was reported that she even smuggled secret photos of Nazi military equipment in her underwear!

Civil Rights Activist

After returning to United States, Josephine became an influential figure in the civil rights movement, working closely with the NAACP to fight against racism and inequality. During the March on Washington, she gave a speech right before Martin Luther King Jr. and stood beside him as he delivered "I Have a Dream."

Super Mom

Josephine loved children. She ultimately adopted 12 children of different races from different countries around the world, such as Finland and Venezuela, and called them her "Rainbow Tribe."

Besides her children, Josephine loved animals as well. She owned a cheetah named Chiquita, a chimpanzee named Ethel, a goat named Toutoute, a pig named Albert, a snake named Kiki, and more!

Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes (born as James Mercer Langston Hughes in 1902), is a renowned poet, writer, playwright, activist, and one of the most important figures of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s. He's remembered as "The People's Poet" because his insightful works aimed to bring people together while portraying black life in America. 

He is also the inspiration for our "Langston" luxury candles!

King of Jazz Poetry

Langston pioneered a style known as "jazz poetry," which incorporated the syncopated rhythm and feel of jazz into his poems. 

He once said, "[Jazz] to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America; the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul—the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile.”

Wartime Reporter

Besides writing poetry, novels, and plays, Langston also spent 20 years writing columns for the newspaper, the Chicago Defender. In 1937, he travelled to Spain where he spent 5 months covering the Spanish Civil War and the Black Americans who volunteered there as part of the Abraham Lincoln and Washington Brigades.

High School Prodigy

Langston wrote some of his most popular works while still a high school student. In 1921, he was just 17 years old when he wrote one of his most recognizable poems, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." His first jazz poem, "When Sue Wears Red," was also written while he was in high school.   

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday (born as Eleanora Fagan in 1915 and nicknamed "Lady Day") overcame a rough childhood to become one of the best jazz singers in history. She started singing in local Harlem nightclubs in 1930. when she was discovered by legendary producer John Hammond and went on to change jazz forever.

She is also the inspiration for our "Holiday" and "Lady Day" luxury candles!

Song of the Century

Lady Day earned many awards and honors during her illustrious career, as well as 4 posthumous Grammy Awards. One that stands out is when Time Magazine named her studio recording of "Strange Fruit" the "Best Song of the Century" on December 31, 1999. The song was originally recorded in 1939 and protested the lynching of Black Americans by comparing the victims to the fruit of trees.

Reality TV Star

In 1953, Lady Day appeared in episode three of "The Comeback Story," which was one of the first reality television series in America. It was broadcasted on ABC in black-and-white, and told the true stories of celebrities who overcame adversity to find success.

"Angel of Harlem" Inspiration

Although she passed away in 1959, Lady Day's influence on music and culture never faded. In one instance, she became the inspiration for U2's song "Angel of Harlem" in their 1988 album Rattle and Hum. 

According to lead singer Bono, "We landed in JFK and we were picked up in a limousine... The limo driver was black and he had the radio tuned to WBLS, a black music station. Billie Holiday was singing. And there it was, city of blinding lights, neon hearts."

James Baldwin

James Arthur Baldwin, born in Harlem in 1924, is a legendary novelist, playwright, poet, and activist. As a man of color who also identified as a homosexual, James used his gift of storytelling to push for positive social change and helped drive the civil rights and gay liberation movements in America. 

He is also the inspiration for our "Love" luxury candles, which were originally commissioned for the 2018 movie based on James Baldwin's novel "If Beale Street Could Talk."

Teen Preacher

James had a tough childhood, growing up in poverty as the eldest of 9 children. When he was 14, he experienced what he described as a "prolonged religious crisis," leading him to discover God and become a preacher in a small revivalist church until he was 17. He later wrote about this experience in his debut novel, "Go Tell It on the Mountain."

Film Critic

In addition to writing novels, James also lent his insight and eloquence as a film critic to tackle complex issues of race and social justice though the lens of American cinema. 

In his review of the 1973 horror movie "The Exorcist," James wrote: "The mindless and hysterical banality of evil presented in The Exorcist is the most terrifying thing about the film. The Americans should certainly know more about evil than that; if they pretend otherwise, they are lying, and any Black man, and not only Blacks—many, many others, including white children—can call them on this lie, he who has been treated as the devil recognizes the devil when they meet."

Longhand Writer

Contrary to how we picture prolific authors and writers during that era tapping away at their typewriters long into night, James was adamant about doing most of his writing in longhand on standard yellow legal pads. As something to consider for aspiring writers, James noted that using longhand helps one achieve shorter declarative sentences (as opposed to long, rambling passages with passive phrasing).

He said, "You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal."