Slightly apron revue dancer and adoptive mother of numerous children of various colors, bisexual and mixed origins - even at second glance, Joséphine Baker (1906 to 1975) does not have the profile to be accepted into the Panthéon, the final resting place of the French Republic for her “grands hommes ”(“ homme ”here in the sense of“ man ”, not of“ man ”- the latter meaning inevitably resonating in view of the meager contingent of“ pantheonized ”women). That the French President Emmanuel Macron wants to transfer the mortal remains of the singer of a hit with the refrain "J'ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris" on November 30th to the secular sanctuary of the republic, as on Monday according to a report in the daily Le Parisien has been confirmed, may well surprise you.
Freda Josephine McDonald was born a US citizen in Saint-Louis in 1906 and did not take French citizenship until 1937. By then she had long been a star in her adopted home, as her first appearance in the “Revue nègre” in 1925 had dazzled the Parisian audience. Of Spanish-Indian-Afro-American descent, Joséphine Baker - her stage name - liked to exaggerate the traits that were ascribed to blacks at the time - and in this way wordlessly castigated the racist stereotypes of her time. "She plays the funny stupid, squints, blows her cheeks: she makes fun of the audience, keeps her distance from the characters she embodies in a burlesque way," said the historian Pap Ndiaye, who was working on a book about Baker works. Dressed only in pink feathers or a banana skirt,The “wild” Charleston dancer not only vibrated voyeurs, but also celebrated writers and visual artists, especially those from the circle of surrealists. Cocteau celebrated the exotic revue star as an "idol made of bronze, tanned steel, irony and gold", Picasso even as "Nefertiti of the present".
No way of life for the Panthéon
Baker's way of life was very unorthodox.
In addition to five husbands, numerous lovers shared their lives and / or night camps at times (among the latter the writer Colette and the painter Frida Kahlo).
After her womb had been removed for medical reasons, Baker and her fourth husband, orchestra conductor Jo Bouillon, decided to adopt children from all over the world - long before Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.
The “rainbow family”, which was periodically expanded from 1954 on, had twelve children from Japan, Finland, Colombia, France, Algeria, Côte d'Ivoire, Venezuela and Morocco after ten years (the artist brought two children from some countries after tours).
All of this reads more like material for tabloids than an argument for Baker's pantheonization. But the Missouri lady’s vita has other facets as well. Raising a dozen children in a fairy castle in the Dordogne may, from today's perspective, evoke a questionable social experiment - or the hours of play of a fifty-year-old girl with living dolls. But at its core, the foundation of her rainbow family arises from a humanistic idea: the utopia of a "universal brotherhood" (Baker) in which people of all phenotypes, cultures and denominations coexist peacefully. Baker's lifelong struggle against racism and anti-Semitism, against segregation in the USA and apartheid in South Africa, for his part, testifies to his political commitment,which one would not have expected from an adept of the light muses. Immediately after the German invasion, the singer-dancer finally took the side of Charles de Gaulle's France libre as a Resistance member - among France's revue stars on her own.Keywords: