Who was Josephine Baker?

The first black artist to be celebrated in France, Joséphine Baker, opposed the racist imagery that had made her famous for establishing herself as a free woman, the heroine of the resistance movement, the apostle of universal brotherhood and now “Immortal” in the Pantheon.

Born into misery in the United States, “Ebony Venus” became a beloved diva, went into counterintelligence during World War II and then waged an international fight against racism by becoming the mother of 12 children adopted in four corners of the globe. Without feathers or sequins, it is in the Free France uniform she spoke after Martin Luther King and his famous “I have a dream” in 1963, in Washington. The Civil Rights March was “best day of his life“.

I never knew if this job completely satisfied her and if she would not be a political figure instead.“, declared Bruno Coquatrix, his friend and great boss of the French variety.”She wanted nothing less than the reconciliation of all men (…). She continued her job as a magazine leader to make money, to win this battle“.

Freda Josephine McDonald was born on June 3, 1906 in Saint Louis (Missouri) to a black Indian and a short-lived father of Spanish descent. She grows up in vermin and separation. Placed as a servant, she stopped school to get married as a 13-year-old. A mistake. She joined a group of street dancers and married Willie Baker in 1921.

The young girl leaves her husband to try her luck in New York, but wants to keep her name. She had a hard time integrating two troupes on Broadway and was then persuaded by a producer to join Paris with Sidney Bechet. On October 2, 1925, the African-American dancer became the star of “La Revue Nègre” at the Champs-Elysées Theater and reluctantly agreed to appear topless.

That night, she delighted the whole of Paris with her “wild dance”: in a savannah setting, the artist performs with a strange Charleston in a burst of jazz drums while squinting, a big smile on her lips. “Driven by dark forces I did not know, I improvised, intoxicated by music, the theater overheated and packed under the heat of the projectors“, she will tell. The public discovers, happily, this black woman playing with colonial fantasies. In 1927, on Folies Bergères, she is dressed in a simple belt of bananas and accompanied by a living panther on which the burlesque artist exudes scene.

She is conscious of embodying “the wild,” but she wants to invent her own way of occupying this disturbing place.“, explains director Ilana Navaro in her documentary” Baker, first black icon “.”Around his kidneys, bananas, racist symbols par excellence, are transformed into phallic trophies“.

Joséphine Baker (PHOTO12)

The first song she performed, “J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris”, in 1930 at the Casino de Paris, established her as a diva. “If I want to be a star, I have to be outrageous“She proclaims with her American accent. She walks with a snake around her neck, a goat on a leash and creates scandals after her whims. Her zeal on stage and her exoticism panic Picabia, Desnos. Free woman, we lend him adventures with men and women .

Her impresario Giuseppe Abatino, a Sicilian with whom she lived for ten years, organized a world tour for her. In the United States, reception is mixed. In 1937, “Princess Tam-Tam” married the businessman Jean Lion and became French. “It is France that has made me who I am, I want to preserve her eternal gratitude“, she says.”Have I not become the darling of Paris? They gave me everything, especially their hearts. I gave them mine. I’m ready to give them my life today“.

Black woman, married to a Jewish man, Josephine Baker is a target of the Nazis. From then on, its political commitment becomes central. She sang for the soldiers at the front and became a propaganda agent for General de Gaulle, gaining, among other things, thanks to her interpersonal skills, information about Mussolini’s intentions. Second Lieutenant Joséphine Baker sent covert reports to London with sympathetic ink in her scores, giving her the Croix de Guerre.

She was a civil rights activist for black Americans and joined the International League Against Racism. Alongside Castro, she attended Cuba in 1966 in the Tricontinentale, the Third World Conference. To prove it“there is only one human race“, she and her new husband conductor Jo Bouillon adopt twelve children of different origins. She creates her” rainbow tribe “at a castle in the Dordogne, Milandes, where she founded”the capital of the fraternityFalansteriet becomes an amusement park in honor of a reconciled world. The project is disproportionate: destroyed, she goes back on stage to save her domain. In vain.

She died on April 12, 1975, three days after celebrating her golden wedding anniversary with the stage.

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