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Joséphine Baker, from the music hall to the Pantheon

Entrance into the Pantheon in Paris from the cenotaph of Josephine Baker. . / afp

Forty-six years after her death, she is the first black woman and the first entertainer to receive this honor.

BEATRIZ JUDGE Correspondent in Paris

From the music hall to the Pantheon, passing through the French Residence to the Nazis and the fight for civil rights in the United States. The artist, resistance, spy and Franco-American activist Joséphine Baker entered the Pantheon on Tuesday, the neoclassical building in which the remains of some of the most illustrious figures of France rest.

Forty-six years after her death, Baker (1906-1975) is the first black woman and the first entertainer to receive this honor. With “the ebony goddess”, there are already six women in the Pantheon, compared to the 75 men in the crypt. Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, among others, are buried in this secular temple.

“Joséphine Baker enters here with all those who chose France,” said French President Emmanuel Macron. “Tonight, she enters here with all those artists who accompany her, all those artists who loved jazz, dance, cubism, the freedom of those years,” added the president.

Macron paid tribute to that “war heroine, fighter, dancer, singer, black woman defending blacks, but above all woman defending humans, American and French.” For Macron, Baker embodied “a certain freedom and partying.” Throughout his life, “he fought so many battles with freedom, lightness, joy and beauty in a century of bewilderment,” Macron said.

Baker, whose real name was Freda Josephine McDonald, is considered in France an icon of freedom and anti-racism. Throughout her life, she broke down all gender, social or race barriers.

This music hall star, born into a poor family in Saint-Louis (Missouri), moved to Paris at the age of 19, fleeing from racism and segregation in the United States and embraced the freedom of Paris in the 20s of the century last.

He became the star of Revue Nègre, a musical show that helped popularize jazz and African-American culture in France. And she scandalized the most puritans dancing practically naked only with a skirt of bananas. The Spanish painter Pablo Picasso said of her that she was “a Nefertiti of today.”

In 1939, two years after becoming a French national, she was recruited as an intelligence agent and worked as a spy for the French Resistance. He refused to sing for the Germans in Nazi-occupied Paris. In 1942, she was promoted to Second Lieutenant of the Air Force, the Free French Forces. “A fight for free France, without calculations, without seeking fame”, according to Macron. He received the Legion of Honor and the War Cross with palms.

Joséphine Baker also fought for the rights of African Americans in the United States. Dressed in her Free French Army uniform, the artist spoke at the 1963 Civil Rights March in Washington, alongside Reverend Martin Luther King, when he delivered his famous speech “I have a dream.” ) –

At the wish of her family, the remains of Joséphine Baker will continue to be buried in Monaco, where the grave of her husband, her son Moïse and her protector and great friend, Princess Grace of Monaco, is located. Its cenotaph contains earth from Saint-Louis, Paris, Monaco and from the castle of Milandes. She lived in that French castle for 20 years with her husband and their 12 adopted children of different races, her “rainbow” tribe, as she calls them.

“My country is France,” said Joséphine Baker. “My France is Joséphine,” explained the president. “At heart there is nothing more French than you,” said Macron, embracing the multiculturalism of that France that no one embodies better than Joséphine Baker.


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