Josephine Baker enters the Pantheon, hall of the heroes of France in Paris

Josephine Baker enters the Pantheon, hall of the heroes of France in Paris

An American artist who enchanted Paris in the “crazy years” between the wars and fought in the French resistance against the Nazis, Josephine Baker (1906 – 1975) joins the Paris Pantheon this Tuesday night (30).

With that, she becomes the first black woman and the sixth woman to receive the honor granted by the Presidency of France to its national heroes — such as the philosopher Voltaire, the scientist Marie Curie, the writers Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Alexandre Dumas and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the economist Jean Monnet and the politician Simone Veil.

Baptized Freda Josephine McDonald, the singer and dancer was born in Saint Louis (Missouri, USA), became naturalized French in 1937 and “incarnates the French spirit” and “deserves the recognition of the motherland”, according to the country’s Presidency, when announcing the tribute, in August of this year.

Josephine Baker’s entry into the hall of French heroes will be symbolic: her remains will remain in Monaco, where she was buried in 1975.

The event, which this Tuesday afternoon already dominated TV broadcasts in France, should be led by the President of France, Emmanuel Macron. The script calls for members of the French Air Force to carry and deposit in a tomb a coffin filled with earth from the four regions in which she lived: her hometown, Paris, the castle in southern France where she lived and raised 12 adopted children, and Monaco.

On his YouTube channel, Macron posted a video with scenes of the singer, described on the government’s official website as “an artist in love with freedom, resistance soldier, civil rights activist, mother of a family and a woman committed to racism.”

It was to escape American segregation that she traveled to France in the 1920s, where she became a star and defied customs by performing practically nude — an artificial banana petticoat is one of her most famous brands.

“Here they consider me a person and they don’t see me as a color,” said the singer about the European country, according to the committee that organizes the tribute.

She also campaigned for civil rights alongside American anti-racism leader Martin Luther King and was the first black woman to star in a major film production: “La Sirène des Tropiques” (the siren of the tropics), released in 1927.

During World War II, Josephine Baker acted as a spy for the French resistance, transmitting information through musical publications.

The most recent request for her to enter the Pantheon was made by essayist Laurent Kupferman, also director of the film “Josephine Baker, a French Destiny”, which will be released tonight. The tribute had been requested on other occasions by NGOs, politicians and artists.


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