It may seem as if remote-work, digital nomad, and expat living, is trendy now, but people have been venturing out and departing their home country for work, adventure, or better opportunities and freedom for quite a while. I began to think about some of the people of history that I have admired as artists, poets, authors, actors, and entertainers, and it occurred to me they were expats, too. Here is a small sample of some of the most famous expats from the United States.
Famous Expats: Josephine Baker (1906-1975)
World Renown Dancer, Singer, Actress, Activist
Josephine Baker was born June 3, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri, as Freda Josephine MacDonald. At age 15, she danced in the streets for money.
Her performance got the attention of an African American Theatre troupe and she ran away with them to perform. She also got married and took on her husband’s name and dropped her first to become Josephine Baker.
Josephine was a rousing success in Paris, where she found freedom of expression in her dances. The Paris elite loved performances of her infamous Banana Dance, they called Danse Sauvage. Adorned with a skirt of bananas and a partially nude brown body, she was spectacular!
She was multi-talented as a singer, dancer, and actress and flourished while in Paris without the reality of segregation and discrimination she endured in the U.S.
During WWII, she assisted the Resistance as a spy, passing on information to French military officials she overheard while performing in front of the enemy and was awarded the highest military honor given by the French for her service.
After her success in Paris, she returned to the United States where she was forced to confront segregation and discrimination that she had not experienced while in Europe. She was one of only 3 women allowed to speak at the March on Washington in 1963 where she shared her experience as an African American living abroad. She noted in her speech that she’d met kings, queens, and heads of state all over Europe but was not allowed to eat at restaurants in her own country.
She returned to Paris and adopted 13 refugee children from around the world. She called them her ‘Rainbow Tribe.” That was her way of bringing the world together.
She continued to perform until her death in Paris, 1975
Famous Expats: James Baldwin – 1924 – 1987
Famous Writer, Poet, Civil Rights Activist
James Baldwin was born August 2, 1924, in Harlem, NY to the poor and harsh realities of discrimination, hard street life and struggles with sexuality.
He became a preacher like his father for 3 years and read everything he could get his hands on from the library.
Finally, at his wit’s end, he determined he was going to be killed, kill someone, or end up in jail. So he left the United States with only $40 in his pocket. He finally moved to Paris.
After years of struggle, he began to write and turned out some of the most insightful, thought-provoking, and introspective novels, essays, and poems. Some of his best-known writings were Giovanni’s Room, Go Tell It On the Mountain, Notes from a Native Son, and The Fire Next Time.
He returned to the U.S. as he watched the Civil Rights Movement take hold. He made alliances with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X. He marched, gave speeches, and worked with the movement for racial justice.
He returned to his home in St. Paul de Vence, France, after the assassination of Dr. King. With the help of his brother Daniel, he gradually emerged out of his depression and began to write again.
In 2018 his unfinished manuscript was turned into a movie called I Am Not Your Negro Directed by Raoul Peck and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson.
He died December 1, 1987, in St Paul de Vence, France.
Famous Expats: Stevie Wonder – May 13, 1950 –
Singer, Songwriter, Producer, Entertainer, Activist
More recently, in February 2021, Stevie Wonder, a Michigan native singer, songwriter, activist, Motown superstar, and winner of 25 Grammy Awards, conducted an interview with Oprah Winfrey where he announced he was permanently moving to Ghana, West Africa.
He cited concern with the political turmoil in the U.S. and he didn’t want his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and beyond to still be asking to be liked, respected, and valued. He says Ghana gives you a sense of community.
These are just a couple of the world’s most infamous expats who survived and thrived in their new home country. People decide to leave their home countries for various reasons however, once they do, many have built bigger and better lives. If they could do it, so can you.
Have an idea of where you’d like to live? Let us help you make that transition.
by: Gail Turner Brown