Stépahen Bern, edited by Alexis Patri 5:36 pm, December 22, 2021

Pantheonized on November 30, Josephine Baker had two loves: her country and Paris.

But the artist and resistance fighter fell in love a third time, not with a city, but with a castle where she spent more than 30 years of her life.

A story told by Stéphane Bern in "Historically yours".

We don't really imagine him as a lord.

And yet: from 1937 to 1969, it was in Périgord, at the Château des Milandes, in the town of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, that Joséphine Baker raised her famous rainbow family, this tribe of children of all origins, adopted with her husband, the conductor Jo Bouillon.

Joséphine Baker is spending happy days in this splendid Renaissance building which has dominated the Dordogne for more than five centuries, full of laughter and children ... 

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Over the years, she has completely redesigned this house to accommodate her friends as well, and sometimes the whole village.

As when she invited the children of Castelnaud to celebrate Christmas, around a huge Christmas tree.

Josephine Baker wanted to make this castle out of a fairy tale.

A tale of which she was the benevolent queen.

The sixth woman to enter the Pantheon was indeed a queen!

Not by birth, but by this extraordinary life.

A queen, yes, and even three times.

Meteoric beginnings

Queen of the stage first.

And God knows she fought for that place.

She who was born Freda Josephine McDonald, far from the Parisian scenes, was born in 1906, in Saint-Louis, Missouri.

She who does not know who her father is and who grew up as best she could with her mother, her brother and her two sisters.

But little Josephine has talent in her skin.

She dances, she sings, she sweats the joy of living.

At 14, she was there to seize her chance when she replaced a dancer at the Saint-Louis ballet, where she worked as a seamstress.

The rest is meteoric: after Saint-Louis, we find it in Chicago.

After Chicago, it's Broadway!

And at 18, it's the Grail: here is Joséphine on the other side of the Atlantic, in Paris, in the middle of the Roaring Twenties!

"Absolute and complete happiness" in Paris

We are in 1925. It is the time of the "Black Venus", the one which ignites the boards while dancing the Charleston dressed in a simple loincloth which also serves to mock the received ideas of this France of the colonies which certainly, does not practice segregation on its soil as in the United States, but which hardly shies away from the worst racial clichés. 

From the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Joséphine Baker goes to the Folies Bergères where her tame cheetah causes shivers in the audience, half terrorized, half fascinated by the dances of Joséphine Baker and by her slender and slender physique, which exhilarates Cubist painters. .

The following year, it was the Casino de Paris and its absolute hit,

J'ai deux amours


This song assures him for ever the affection of the French.

This love at first sight, she would talk about it again later, in a speech she gave in 1954: "I knew, on that hazy day, when the liner left New York port, that I would find the sun when I arrived in France […] Here I feel free and happy to live and, when one finds absolute and complete happiness, one can say with conviction: this is my country. "

A spy queen

Queen of the stage, then, and then queen of espionage, when the dark years followed the Roaring Twenties. Naturalized French in 1937, after her short-lived marriage to the industrialist Jean Lion, Joséphine Baker was approached at the start of the war by the French counter-espionage services. In 1939, she went to the front and sang for the soldiers during the Funny War. 

In Paris, Baker multiplies the concerts, distributes food and clothes to those who have nothing.

After the defeat of 1940, Joséphine did not hesitate for a moment and joined forces with Free France.

She has the ideal profile: she's a star who spends her life hanging out with personalities, diplomats and officials.

So at each tour, at each gala, from Marrakech to Cairo, from Beirut to Damascus, Joséphine listens, listens and transmits to London the information she manages to capture. 


The life of Catherine Dior, resistance fighter returned from the camps and sister of the fashion designer Christian Dior

It's courageous, risky.

And sometimes amazing too.

As in Lisbon, when she hides in her bra a microfilm stuffed with the names of Nazi spies.

The one who joined the Pantheon on November 30th took place among her resistant peers like Jean Moulin, René Cassin, Pierre Brossolette or Germaine Tillion.

Queen of the stage and queen of espionage, Josephine Baker was also, all her life and with all her soul, a queen committed against this racism that she knew well.

The little girl was born in an America where blacks were not allowed to study in the same schools, nor to drink from the same taps as whites.

This America where white children's parks were forbidden to dogs and colored people. 

Les Milandes, a castle that leads to ruin

Baker got involved in France with the Red Cross and in the United States alongside Martin Luther King. On August 28, 1963, in Washington, she was alongside the pastor, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, when he pronounced his famous "I have a dream". And when she speaks that day, it is in her uniform, that of the French Air Force, with its decorations: medal of the resistance, cross of war and legion of honor. This Legion of Honor that she received at the Château des Milandes, at her home, in 1961. But fairy tales are sometimes cruel: no one knows it yet, but Joséphine Baker is on the verge of losing everything… Starting with his castle.

A tenant for ten years, Joséphine Baker ended up buying the Milandes in 1947 with her husband, the composer Jo Bouillon.

The couple shared an ambition, a dream: to make this home a refuge, a haven of peace, a safe place where no one would judge anyone on their skin color or their beliefs.

The family lived there happy days during all these years.

But now, Josephine Baker has thought too big and has never looked at the expense.


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Little by little, without her realizing it, she swallowed up all her fortune there, deceived by dishonest people who took advantage of her. His divorce in 1957 does not help. But Joséphine struggles to give life to this "village of the world" of which she dreams. In 1964, riddled with debt, Baker announced the sale of the castle, which was barely postponed thanks to the intervention of Brigitte Bardot, upset by Joséphine's call for help. The reprieve is short-lived. In 1968, the Milandes are sold for a pittance. 

When she returns from a tour, Josephine Baker finds the door closed and ends up barricading herself in the kitchen.

But the new owner has her evicted from the castle under particularly brutal conditions.

Ruined, Joséphine Baker can happily count on her friends: Jean-Claude Brialy first, who shelters her in Paris, then Grace of Monaco who welcomes her for several years on the Rock.

Beating as she always has been, Joséphine Baker multiplies the galas in Paris, Belgrade, London or New York.

By dint of hard work and relentlessness, she returns to the forefront, more loved than ever.

In March 1975, for her fifty-year career, she began a series of shows in Bobino, where she had a full house every night.

But she's exhausted.

On April 9, after 14 performances, Joséphine Baker returned to her Parisian apartment where she suddenly collapsed, the victim of a stroke.

Urgently transported to the hospital, the star will never come out of a coma.

On April 12, at age 68, Joséphine Baker passed away.

We then buried the first black icon of the French scene in the marine cemetery of Monaco, where his body has since rested.

He will always rest there, since in the Pantheon only his name will be present on a cenotaph, a coffin that contains only soil from the four symbolic places where Joséphine Baker spent most of her life: St-Louis, Paris , Monaco and of course the Milandes and its Castle in the Dordogne, where his memory is forever present.