Tuesday, November 30, 2021

La Baker Enters the Pantheon


Josephine Baker was symbolically reburied in the Pantheon in Paris today.  At the request of her family, she will remain buried in Monaco.  A coffin filled with earth from all the places that she lived from Missouri to Monaco was buried in the Pantheon in her place.

President Macron with her symbolic coffin earlier today.

The Pantheon in Paris

Josephine Baker wearing some silk bananas and not much else for her famous/notorious Banana Dance.  This number for the Folies Bergeres in 1927 was a sensation and a scandal.  Josephine Baker was one of the first great international sex symbols and celebrities.  Her brazen performances crossing all kinds of forbidden frontiers of race and sexuality shocked many and thrilled many many more.

Josephine wears one of many spectacular and sometimes revealing costumes 

With her pet cheetah that she walked on a leash through the streets of Paris

Josephine was not the least bit shy before cameras, nor was she particularly shy or remorseful about her eventful love life with men and women.  She was among the very first sex symbols.

Alexander Calder, Josephine Baker, 1927, a wire sculpture.

Josephine Baker inspired many of the most noted artists of the day, and legions of others not quite so noted.

Henri Matisse, Creole Dancer, paper collage, 1950

A very young Josephine Baker in 1908 in St. Louis.  She was born into dire poverty in St. Louis to a mother from Arkansas who was a former slave.

Josephine Baker in uniform.  When the Germans invaded France in 1940, she joined the French Underground.  She was a major conduit of documents and information between the French resistance forces in occupied France and the French government in exile in London.  She used her connections in Africa and the Middle East to help French Jews escape the Nazis and their French collaborators in the Vichy government.  She accomplished all this by hiding in plain sight.  There were many occasions when she crossed German checkpoints in her Rolls Royce limo stopping for photos and autographs with star-struck German soldiers.  Meanwhile, she kept a trunk full of resistance documents and communications in the car.  Had the sequins fallen from those German eyes, she would have been shot immediately.
After the War, the French government inducted her into the Legion of Honor and awarded her the Croix de Guerre.  They knew her from then on as "The Good Mata Hari." 

Wearing her medals for her service and her French military uniform, Josephine Baker addressed the crowds at the 1963 March on Washington.  She remained actively involved in civil rights causes in the USA and in France.

After World War II, Josephine Baker began adopting children.  She ended up adopting a dozen, ten boys and two girls.  She called them her Rainbow Tribe adopting children of all races and from every continent.  Some of those children were present at the ceremony today in Paris.

Josephine Baker at her estate, the Chateau des Milandes in 1961

Her funeral in Paris in April, 1975

Like a lot of gay men, I love Josephine Baker for so many reasons, and I'm delighted to see her get this honor from France, a country she loved and served so well.

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