Dancer, singer … spy: France’s Panthéon to honour Josephine Baker

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Europe, History, Media Archive, Women on 2021-11-29 22:14Z by Steven

Dancer, singer … spy: France’s Panthéon to honour Josephine Baker

The Guardian

Jon Henley

‘Resistance heroine’: Josephine Baker entertains the troops at a London victory party in 1945. Photograph: Jack Esten/Getty Images

The performer will be the first Black woman to enter the mausoleum, in recognition of her wartime work

In November 1940, two passengers boarded a train in Toulouse headed for Madrid, then onward to Lisbon. One was a striking Black woman in expensive furs; the other purportedly her secretary, a blonde Frenchman with moustache and thick glasses.

Josephine Baker, toast of Paris, the world’s first Black female superstar, one of its most photographed women and Europe’s highest-paid entertainer, was travelling, openly and in her habitual style, as herself – but she was playing a brand new role.

Her supposed assistant was Jacques Abtey, a French intelligence officer developing an underground counter-intelligence network to gather strategic information and funnel it to Charles de Gaulle’s London HQ, where the pair hoped to travel after Portugal.

Ostensibly, they were on their way to scout venues for Baker’s planned tour of the Iberian peninsula. In reality, they carried secret details of German troops in western France, including photos of landing craft the Nazis were lining up to invade Britain.

The information was mostly written on the singer’s musical scores in invisible ink, to be revealed with lemon juice. The photographs she had hidden in her underwear. The whole package was handed to British agents at the Lisbon embassy – who informed Abtey and Baker they would be far more valuable assets in France than in London.

So back to occupied France Baker duly went. “She was immensely brave, and utterly committed,” Hanna Diamond, a Cardiff university professor, said of Baker, who on Tuesday will become the first Black woman to enter the Panthéon in Paris, the mausoleum for France’s “great men”….

Read the entire article here.

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Women and Mixed Race Representation in Film: Eight Star Profiles

Posted in Biography, Books, Communications/Media Studies, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-10-27 20:24Z by Steven

Women and Mixed Race Representation in Film: Eight Star Profiles

302 pages
54 photos, notes, bibliography, index
7 x 10
Softcover ISBN: 978-1-4766-6338-8
eBook ISBN: 978-1-4766-4473-8

Valerie C. Gilbert
Seattle, Washington

This book uses a black/white interracial lens to examine the lives and careers of eight prominent American-born actresses from the silent age through the studio era, New Hollywood, and into the present century: Josephine Baker, Nina Mae McKinney, Fredi Washington, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, Lonette McKee, Jennifer Beals and Halle Berry. Combining biography with detailed film readings, the author fleshes out the tragic mulatto stereotype, while at the same time exploring concepts and themes such as racial identity, the one-drop rule, passing, skin color, transracial adoption, interracial romance, and more. With a wealth of background information, this study also places these actresses in historical context, providing insight into the construction of race, both onscreen and off.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • 1. Josephine Baker: From Exotic Savage to Creole Queen
  • 2. Nina Mae McKinney: Dichotomy of a Hollywood Black Woman
  • 3. Fredi Washington: Paradox of Black Identity
  • 4. Lena Horne: Separate and Unequalled
  • 5. Dorothy Dandridge: ­Star-Crossed Crossover Star
  • 6. Lonette McKee: Mixed Race Heroine Remix
  • 7. Jennifer Beals: White But Not Quite
  • 8. Halle Berry: Imitation of Dorothy Dandridge
  • Chapter Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Screen Title Index
  • Subject Index
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Josephine Baker is 1st Black woman given Paris burial honor

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Europe, History, Women on 2021-08-23 02:58Z by Steven

Josephine Baker is 1st Black woman given Paris burial honor

The Associated Press

FILE – In this file photo dated March 6, 1961, singer Josephine Baker poses in her dressing room at the Strand Theater in New York City, USA. The remains of American-born singer and dancer Josephine Baker will be reinterred at the Pantheon monument in Paris, Le Parisien newspaper reported Sunday Aug. 22, 2021, that French President Emmanuel Macron has decided to bestow the honor. Josephine Baker is a World War II hero in France and will be the first Black woman to get the country’s highest honor. (AP Photo)”

PARIS (AP) — The remains of American-born singer and dancer Josephine Baker will be reinterred at the Pantheon monument in Paris, making the entertainer who is a World War II hero in France the first Black woman to get the country’s highest honor.

Le Parisien newspaper reported Sunday that French President Emmanuel Macron decided to organize a ceremony on Nov. 30 at the Paris monument, which houses the remains of scientist Marie Curie, French philosopher Voltaire, writer Victor Hugo and other French luminaries.

The presidential palace confirmed the newspaper’s report.

After her death in 1975, Baker was buried in Monaco, dressed in a French military uniform with the medals she received for her role as part of the French Resistance during the war.

Baker will be the fifth woman to be honored with a Pantheon burial and will also be the first entertainer honored…

Read the entire article here.

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Josephine Baker’s Rainbow Tribe

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Women on 2014-04-21 01:46Z by Steven

Josephine Baker’s Rainbow Tribe


Rebecca Onion

To prove that racial harmony was possible, the dancer adopted 12 children from around the globe—and charged admission to watch them coexist.

Beginning in 1953, almost 30 years after her first successful performances on the Paris stage, the singer and dancer Josephine Baker adopted 12 children from different countries, ranging from Finland to Venezuela. She installed what she called her “Rainbow Tribe” in a 15th-century chateau in the South of France and charged admission to tourists who came to hear them sing, to tour their home, or to watch them play leapfrog in their garden.

This little-known chapter in Baker’s life is an uncomfortable one. “I would begin to tell the story of Josephine Baker, and people would start to laugh,” says Matthew Pratt Guterl, the author of a new book on Baker’s later life, Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe. “And I would start to wonder what that laughter signified.” Guterl, a professor of Africana studies and American studies at Brown University, has in essence written two books in one: the story of Baker’s family, and a meditation on the meaning of that laughter…

Read the entire review here.

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Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe

Posted in Biography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Women on 2014-02-15 03:52Z by Steven

Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe

Harvard University Press
April 2014
288 pages
5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
30 halftones
Hardcover ISBN: 9780674047556

Matthew Pratt Guterl, Professor of Africana studies and American studies
Brown University

Creating a sensation with her risqué nightclub act and strolls down the Champs Elysées, pet cheetah in tow, Josephine Baker lives on in popular memory as the banana-skirted siren of Jazz Age Paris. In Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe, Matthew Pratt Guterl brings out a little known side of the celebrated personality, showing how her ambitions of later years were even more daring and subversive than the youthful exploits that made her the first African American superstar.

Her performing days numbered, Baker settled down in a sixteenth-century chateau she named Les Milandes, in the south of France. Then, in 1953, she did something completely unexpected and, in the context of racially sensitive times, outrageous. Adopting twelve children from around the globe, she transformed her estate into a theme park, complete with rides, hotels, a collective farm, and singing and dancing. The main attraction was her Rainbow Tribe, the family of the future, which showcased children of all skin colors, nations, and religions living together in harmony. Les Milandes attracted an adoring public eager to spend money on a utopian vision, and to worship at the feet of Josephine, mother of the world.

Alerting readers to some of the contradictions at the heart of the Rainbow Tribe project—its undertow of child exploitation and megalomania in particular—Guterl concludes that Baker was a serious and determined activist who believed she could make a positive difference by creating a family out of the troublesome material of race.

Table of Contents

  • Prologue
  • 1. Too Busy to Die
  • 2. No More Bananas
  • 3. Citizen of the World
  • 4. Southern Muse
  • 5. Ambitious Assemblages
  • 6. French Disney
  • 7. Mother of a Wounded World
  • 8. Unraveling Plots
  • 9. Rainbow’s End
  • Epilogue
  • Abbreviations
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index

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Wilder than her pet cheetah, the sex-mad Black Venus who outwitted the Nazis: Remarkable story of Josephine Baker as Rihanna is set to play legendary seductress in biopic

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Europe, Media Archive, Women on 2013-08-24 20:10Z by Steven

Wilder than her pet cheetah, the sex-mad Black Venus who outwitted the Nazis: Remarkable story of Josephine Baker as Rihanna is set to play legendary seductress in biopic

The Daily Mail

Annabel Venning

Under scorching stage-lights, Josephine Baker stepped out in front of the audience entirely naked, but for a few strategically-placed flamingo-feathers.

Her male dance partner carried her upside down, her long, slender legs stretched out in the splits.

He set her down, and she began to dance. As the light played on her coffee-brown skin, her body seemed to become almost molten as she wound herself around her partner.

She was, she later recalled, lost in the eroticism of the moment, ‘intoxicated . . . driven by dark forces I didn’t recognise,’ as she writhed seductively before shuddering to a climactic halt.

For a few moments the Paris audience remained silent, as if stunned. Then they rose to their feet as one and erupted in ecstatic applause.

She was hailed as the ‘Black Venus’. Picasso dubbed her the ‘Nefertiti of now’. Author Ernest Hemingway called her ‘the most sensational woman anyone ever saw’.

It was the start of an extraordinary career.  Josephine Baker, the girl from the St Louis ghetto, rose to become one of the greatest divas ever, an icon of the Jazz Age, talented and glamorous, but also decadent and amoral.

Today, all that many people remember of her is that she danced naked except for her famous tutu made of (fake) bananas…

Read the entire article here.

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Blackout: How Argentina ‘Eliminated’ Africans From Its History And Conscience

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Science on 2013-06-17 00:27Z by Steven

Blackout: How Argentina ‘Eliminated’ Africans From Its History And Conscience

International Business Times
New York, New York

Palash Ghosh, Senior Writer, World

Tens of millions of black Africans were forcibly removed from their homelands from the 16th century to the 19th century to toil on the plantations and farms of the New World. This so-called “Middle Passage” accounted for one of the greatest forced migrations of people in human history, as well as one of the greatest tragedies the world has ever witnessed.

Millions of these helpless Africans washed ashore in Brazil—indeed, in the present-day, roughly one-half of the Brazilian population trace their lineage directly to Africa. African culture has imbued Brazil permanently and profoundly, in terms of music, dance, food and in many other tangible ways.

But what about Brazil’s neighbor, Argentina? Hundreds of thousands of Africans were brought there as well—yet, the black presence in Argentina has virtually vanished from the country’s records and consciousness…

…But blacks did not really vanish from Argentina – despite attempts by the government to eliminate them (partially by encouraging large-scale immigration in the late 19th and 20th century from Europe and the Near East). Rather, they remain a hidden and forgotten part of Argentine society.

Hishaam Aidi, a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, wrote on Planete Afrique that in the 1950s, when the black American entertainer Josephine Baker arrived in Argentina, she asked the mixed-race minister of public health, Ramón Carilio: “Where are the Negroes?” In response, Carilio joked: “There are only two—you and I.”

As in virtually all Latin American societies where blacks mixed with whites and with local Indians, the question of race is extremely complex and contentious.

“People of mixed ancestry are often not considered ‘black’ in Argentina, historically, because having black ancestry was not considered proper,” said Alejandro Frigerio, an anthropologist at the Universidad Catolica de Buenos Aires, according to Planete Afrique.

“Today the term ‘negro’ is used loosely on anyone with slightly darker skin, but they can be descendants of indigenous Indians [or] Middle Eastern immigrants.”

AfricaVive, a black empowerment group founded in Buenos Aires in the late 1990s, claimed that there are 1 million Argentines of black African descent in the country (out of a total population of about 41 million). A report in the Washington Post even suggested that 10 percent of Buenos Aires’ population may have African blood (even if they are classified as “whites” by the census).

“People for years have accepted the idea that there are no black people in Argentina,” Miriam Gomes, a professor of literature at the University of Buenos Aires, who is part black herself, told the Post.

“Even the schoolbooks here accepted this as a fact. But where did that leave me?”

She also explained that almost no one in Argentina with black blood in their veins will admit to it.

“Without a doubt, racial prejudice is great in this society, and people want to believe that they are white,” she said. “Here, if someone has one drop of white blood, they call themselves white.“…

Read the entire article here.

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Josephine Baker: A Chanteuse and a Fighter

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Biography, Media Archive, Women on 2012-11-23 20:07Z by Steven

Josephine Baker: A Chanteuse and a Fighter

The Journal of Transnational American Studies
Volume 2, Number 1 (2010)
18 pages

Konomi Ara
Tokyo University of Foreign Studies

This excerpt is from her newly-published biography of Josephine Baker, “A Fighting Diva.” It tells the intriguing story of Baker’s travels to Japan, her close friendship with the Japanese humanitarian Miki Sawada, and her adoption of a pair of Japanese orphans. Even after she achieved celebrity in France, Baker’s experience as a Black American led her to develop an antiracist philosophy at a worldwide level, and she combined political militancy in the public sphere with a personal commitment through the formation of an international multiracial household of children, the “Rainbow Tribe.”

Introduction: The Adoption of an Occupation Baby

Over half a century ago, in 1954, an African-American known as ‘The Amber Queen’ visited Japan. She was Josephine Baker (1906–1975), the dancer and singer who had
leaped to fame in Paris in the 1920s. The newspaper Asahi Shinbun described the feverish welcome she received on her first visit to the country:

“The amber-skinned singer Josephine Baker arrived from Paris on an Air France flight into Tokyo Haneda Airport at 9.40pm on the 13th. She has come to give fundraising performances for the abandoned mixed-race children of the Elizabeth Sanders Home in Oiso in Kanagawa Prefecture. The airport was thronged with many fans, including young women and black American soldiers, who had flocked in spite of the fine rain. Dressed in a black suit and a blue overcoat, Mrs Baker was greeted in the lobby by the director of the Sanders Home, Mrs Miki Sawada, the First Secretary of the French Embassy Monsieur Travis and the Daiei Studio actress Noboru Kiritachi among others. When two children from the Sanders Home, seven-year-olds Toshikazu Sato and Misao Kageyama, presented her with a bouquet, she gave the half-black boy and girl affectionate kisses on the cheeks. When she greeted all who had gathered, her voice was unexpectedly youthful for a 47 year old: ‘This is my first visit to Japan. Nothing could make me happier.’ She then headed for the Imperial Hotel with her pianist Milos Bartek and two others.” (14th April 1954)

As the article states, the purpose of Josephine’s visit to Japan was to give charity performances in support of abandoned mixed-race children. She had been invited by her friend Miki Sawada, the director of the Sanders Home, who was caring for the children known as ‘Occupation Babies’. The proceeds from Josephine’s performances around Japan would fund the construction of a boys’ dormitory at the Elizabeth Sanders Home, Baker Hall, and it still stands today although its use has changed. Josephine’s name and her words are carved at the bottom of a pillar on one of the corners of the building.

However, Josephine had a more important personal reason for her visit: she was going to adopt a child from the Home. Indeed, upon her arrival at the airport she asked Miki: “Where is my child?” and she was keen to meet the boy whom it was already agreed she would adopt. So Miki changed their plan, which was for Josephine to meet the child, Akio Yamamoto, three days later at the Elizabeth Sanders Home in Oiso, and instead took him to the Imperial Hotel the very next day. In the evening edition of Asahi Shinbun on the 14th, there is a photograph of a smiling Josephine holding Akio alongside an article headlined: “The First Meeting with Little Akio”.

Josephine subsequently visited the Elizabeth Sanders Home and adopted one more boy on the spur of the moment. Thus, the first two of Josephine’s 12 adopted children from different parts of the world and different cultural, religious and racial backgrounds, who would become known as The Rainbow Tribe, were from Japan. The youngsters would spend their childhoods at Josephine’s chateau, Les Milandes, in the Dordogne region of southwest France…

…This home for infants was founded in February 1948. The institution, which became well known as a home for mixed-race children, was a major project started by Miki Sawada. This eldest daughter of the Iwasaki family of the former Mitsubishi conglomerate, who had a privileged upbringing and who married the diplomat Renzo Sawada to become Miki Sawada, was moved by the problem of mixed‐race children in the wake of the War and decided to provide for such abandoned youngsters herself.

At its inception, Miki could not have imagined that the Home would turn into such a large-scale project with such longevity; but well over 1000 children subsequently arrived at and left this nest. Even today, the Home, a little altered, at any one time is home to almost 100 children whose birth parents have not been able to take care of them. Although the Home is no longer caring for ‘Occupation Babies’, the humanitarian spirit that forms the basis of its nurturing philosophy has not changed. One of the most powerful connections Miki formed was with the internationally famous African American performer Josephine Baker. Baker, who visited Japan for the first time in 1954, adopted two boys, Akio Yamamoto and Teruya Kimura, from among the mixed-race children known as ‘Occupation Babies’…

Read the entire article here.

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Argentina: Land of the Vanishing Blacks

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Social Science on 2012-09-22 19:55Z by Steven

Argentina: Land of the Vanishing Blacks

Ebony Magazine
October 1973
pages 74-85

Era Bell Thompson

Once outnumbering whites five to one, blacks were absorbed and inundated by massive immigration

“If you are looking for black people, why,” they asked helpfully, “did you come to Argentina? Why don’t you go to Brazil?”

Well, I had been to Brazil (Ebony July, September 1965), the “most mulatto” nation in South America, hopefully in the process of becoming white through amalgamation. Now I was in Argentina where massive European immigration was the catalyst that converted an erstwhile mixed-blood people into the whitest nation on the continent.

I had read that there were no more blacks in that Spanish-speaking country. But I had also heard rumors of a small black colony in Buenos Aires, the capital. So what happened to Argentina’s involuntary immigrants, those African slaves and their mulatto descendants who once outnumbered whites five to one, and who were for 250 years “an important element” in the total populations which is now 97 percent white? Had they been entirely absorbed by, or simply inundated in successive waves of the new Argentines?

What I found was not a viable, but a vanishing black people: relatively few in numbers, relatively free of racial discrimination and relatively content. Summarized one gentleman, “If there were more of us, perhaps it would be different.”

The white Argentine, who is overwhelmingly of Italian and Spanish descent, doubts there ever were many blacks in their section of the old Rio de la Plata viceroyalty and are unaware of those still within their midst. The ranks of the few slaves channeled into the port of Buenos Aires, they believe, were decimated largely by disease and war. The survivors who did not emigrate to neighboring countries were absorbed by the mestizos.

The question of what happened to Argentine blacks is not a new one. Ysabel P. Rennie, author of the book. The Argentine Republic, calls it “one of the most intriguing riddles of Argentine history.” In his book, Argentina, a City and a Nation, James R. Scobie says “the disappearance of the Negro from the Argentine scene has puzzled demographers far more than the vanishing Indian.”

When Josephine Baker visited the country during Juan Peron’s first term as president, the entertainer asked Dr. Ramon Carrillo, mulatto minister of public health, “Where are the Negroes?”

“There are only two,” he laughingly replied. “You and I.”

My first impressions of Buenos Aires were: the man was right. In Buenos Aires, the city, and Buenos Aires province, where the preponderance of the entire population is found. Afro-Argentines, especially the fair-skinned ones, and not easily distinguishable from Latin-type whites. And then there is a matter of definitions. The terms Negro and mulatto are still used, but with slightly different connotations. Negro (small ‘n’) is the Spanish word for black. It took me some time to get used to hearing négro sprinkled throughout conversations that had nothing to do with race. Mulatto (or moreno) is an African-Spanish mixture, as differentiated from mestizo, which technically means only Spanish-Indian, but more often than Argentines care to admit, includes an admixture of black blood. Zambo (not Sambo) means African-Indian, but the term—if not the practice which produced it—has been discontinued, as have the names of two social classes: the gaucho, now cowboy, and cabecitas négras, or little black heads, as people fresh in from the provinces were once called. A Creole is an Argentine-born white.

When I posed Josephine Baker’s question, the average creole could recall only a doorman here or a porter there. Brown people who were not mestizos were Brazilian tourists. A secretary in a government office said she was 16 before she saw a black man. Fortunately, I did not have to wait that long…

Read the entire article here.

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