She was a dancer, singer, leader of the review, committed, resistant... But, throughout her life, she was above all a free woman. Portrait.
«Dare Josephine!» For the younger ones, this is a great hit by Alain Bashung. But it’s also the title of a petition that was signed by some 40,000 people three years ago. It took up a suggestion from Régis Debray in 2013, to ask the President of the Republic for Josephine Baker’s entry into the Pantheon: Artist, first black international star, muse of cubists, resistant during the Second World War in the French army, active alongside Martin Luther King for civil rights in the United States of America and in France alongside the Lica, Knight of the Legion of Honour in military capacity, war cross 1939-1945 with palm, Resistance Medal (with rosette), Commemorative Medal of Voluntary Service in Free France. We believe that Josephine Baker, 1906-1975, has a place in the Pantheon.”
This will be done on November 30, after a decision by the President of the Republic. The body of Josephine Baker, according to the wishes of her family, will remain in Monaco where she rests in the marine cemetery. The presence of the artist in the Pantheon will be manifested by a cenotaph as was the case, among others, for Aimée Césaire, the singer of the negritude, the poet, the Martinican politician, buried in Fort-de-France.
A French woman from elsewhere
Josephine Baker… A French woman who came from elsewhere, immediately adopted by her adopted country. Born in Saint-Louis, Missouri, on June 3, 1906, the delicious Josephine seized the first opportunity she had to leave her native land in 1925. One day, she said, I realized that I was living in a country where I was afraid of being black. It was a country reserved for white people. There was no room for black people. I was suffocating in the United States. A lot of us left, not because we wanted to, but because we couldn’t take it anymore— I felt liberated in Paris».
From France, she still said: «Here, I am mistaken for a person and I am not considered a colour». And later, when she accompanied Martin Luther King’s march for civil rights in Washington in 1963, dressed in his French army uniform, with his decorations: «In France, I never had fear».
A phenomenal success
After having sold out in 1925 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, as a dancer in the Revue Nègre, she embarked with equal joy on the song. We cannot recommend too much to those who have perhaps forgotten it, to resort to the sound archives to understand and measure well the phenomenal success of the one who sang, with an accent of an irresistible seduction «I have two loves, my country and Paris», with music by Vincent Scotto. Title that, from then on, will open each of his recitals and will definitively impose the so-called «Black Venus» as the only rival of Mistinguett, the other great star of these Roaring Twenties that were coming to an end. We are in 1929.
The artist, his beauty, his charm, his talent, had conquered all of Paris, France and Europe. The woman of the head, the woman of the heart, her sense of honor, her courage, her love of the country, her new homeland, were to touch the heart of the French in a completely different way, when, after the victory, they discovered that in 1939, She had put herself at the service of free France.
At the service of free France
When the party was over, in 1939, she decided to serve her country after having charmed it and by September became one of the agents of French counter-espionage. She also mobilizes for the Red Cross. After the Battle of France, she joined the secret services of free France in November 1940, in France and then in North Africa, until the Liberation.
In the aftermath of the war, in 1947, she acquired the Château des Milandes in the Dordogne, which she had rented since 1937 and where she lived until 1969. She can’t have children. Never mind! Her castle will be home to 12 from all origins, which she has adopted and calls her “rainbow tribe”. When you love, you don’t count. Josephine loved to love.
Beauty and goodness, talent, charm, strength, courage, generosity… Can we really have all the gifts, all these gifts? Isn’t that too much for one man, for one woman? Of course not. We have proof of that. It’s called proof by Josephine.
Dare Josephine? Of course!