Anyone who has followed my blog over the past 14 years knows that I am a fan of the late and, need I say, great Josephine Baker. Frequent posts have featured her performing, and in at least one I reminisced about My Night with Josephine. I’ve also mentioned the Hirschfeld drawing that has found a place in every home we’ve lived in. The famed caricaturist lined her on the occasion of her return to Broadway in February of 1964 and I bought it in Provincetown sometime in the 1980s. Then there are the books, the clippings from her final triumph and sudden death in 1975 preserved between their pages. Yes I am a big fan of La Baker.
But there is another Josephine momento I’ve overlooked mentioning. Though how you can overlook a 2 ft by 3 ft poster on copper foil I don’t really know. Again its one of those things that have hung on walls of all our homes. I found it in a poster shop – long since gone – on Front Street on a trip to Toronto in 1977. In 1976 William McCaffery created it for a Variety Club benefit celebrating Josephine’s life and legacy. The image is a reverse negative of a photograph of Josephine in costume for Paris Que Remue, her first big revue at the Casino de Paris in 1930. The one-night only gala on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House featured appearances by Alvin Ailey’s dance company, Eubie Blake, Jeanne Moreau, Jacques d’Amboise, Ingrid Bergman, Ossie Davis, Patti Labelle Mohamed Ali, and a host of others.
Unfortunately it is difficult to photograph anything framed behind glass and this photo does do the gleaming copper justice.
I was overjoyed to see that on November 30th Josephine will be given the honour of being reinterred at the Panthéon in Paris. After her state funeral in 1975 she was buried, in full military uniform and medals, in Monaco. She is being recognized primarily for her activities with the French Resistance as an ambulance driver and a spy during the Second World War. She will be the first entertainer and first black woman to be buried amongst the greats of France. There are only four other women buried at the Pantheon: Holocaust survivor Simone Veil, one of France’s most revered politicians; Resistance fighters Germaine Tillion and Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz; and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Marie Curie.
The word for September 5th is:
Pantheon /ˈpanTHēˌän,ˈpanTHēən/: [noun]
1. A group of particularly respected, famous, or important people.
2. All the gods of a people or religion collectively.
Late Middle English (referring especially to the Pantheon, a large circular temple in Rome): via Latin from Greek pantheion, from pan ‘all’ + theion ‘holy’ (from theos ‘god’).