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Flash Flashback , 8-08: The Baker Centennial
Celebrating Josephine's Greatest Love
(The Dance Insider is revisiting its archive. This article was first published in March 2006. After his staff was alerted to the Josephine Baker centennial by the Dance Insider, U.S. ambassador to France Craig Stapleton will be visiting Josephine Baker's former chateau, Les Milandes, this weekend to honor Baker on behalf of the American people.)
"As Charles Trenet
said, 'A long time after the poets have disappeared, their songs
still echo in the streets.' In your manner, you were a poet. Your
soul of a star has become a star."
-- Jacqueline Cartier,
paying tribute to her friend Josephine Baker on the day of her death,
April 13, 1975, in France Soir.
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider
Valley of the Dordogne, France -- There could hardly be a better
way to celebrate Josephine Baker on what would have been her 100th
birthday than the event being planned by the late singer, dancer,
and decorated Resistance leader's neighbors here for June 3: a new
statue depicting Baker as a mother embracing a faceless child, erected
outside Les Milandes, the sprawling chateau in this verdant land
overlooking one of the most breathtaking vistas in France, now a
museum dedicated to her memory, where she sheltered the original
rainbow tribe for decades before being ignobly evicted along with
her ailing cat some 37 years ago.
Baker almost literally
danced and sung herself to death in April 1975, in the midst of
her triumphant return to Paris with a series of concerts at the
Bobino theater in part compelled by impressive debts. On April 10,
two days after a gala which brought many to the verge of tears and
a congratulatory telegram from the president of France, and following
a night in which she had jokingly accused her coterie of being "a
bunch of old people" and boasted "I am the most young of all' when
they declined to stay up all night partying, Baker lay down for
an afternoon pre-show siesta from which she never woke up, suffering
an attack of cerebral congestion. After laying in a coma for close
to three days -- one of her last visitors was fellow ex-pat Princess
Grace -- Josephine left us on April 13, 1975.
To listen to a recording
of one of those concerts is to understand that somewhere deep within,
Josephine must have known she was saying farewell to the city that
she had electrified 50 years earlier, even as France had given her
the career that the racism-addled America of the '20s would not.
"30 years have passed
since the day Josephine Baker left us," notes Alain Bogaert of Operation
Josephine, the organization of local residents which has commissioned
the sculpture from local artist Anne Dominique Marichal, also known
as Chouski. "She was a music hall icon, as well as a Resistance
activist during World War II. Mother of many, she was adopted by
the Perigord, and lived her dream here at the Chateau des Milandes
of creating a 'World Village.'" The Perigord, sometimes also known
as the Dordogne, is in the Southwest of France, in an area known
for truffles, foie gras, walnut liquor and tarts, pre-historic cave
paintings and as the place where the science of pre-history began.
Natives include Jean-Paul Sartre. One can still see Cro-magnon cave
dwellings in the limestone mountains.
The base of the sculpture
will include some of that lustrous stone from local quarries as
well as stones from Baker's native Missouri.
is open to members from around the world. The membership fee --
which will help pay for the sculpture -- is 15 Euros or, at current
exchange rates, $18. Checks, payable to "Operation Josephine," can
be sent to Monsieur Alain Bogaert, Operation Josephine, La Chesnaie
de Lascaze, 24250 Daglan, FRANCE.
To see an image of the
planned sculpture, as well as read more about Operation Josephine,
please visit the organization's website or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read more about Josephine Baker and her museum at Les Milandes,