Sunday, October 24, 2010

I haven't given you a helping of Brown Sugar lately which is very remiss as I have a long way to go with them!

Here I peel a banana to the effervescent Josephine Baker, she may not have been the best singer to come out of the early 20th Century flowering of American black performers but she had that undefinable *something* which has made her to this day a cultural icon.

As with some of her preceding Divas, Baker came from humble beginnings and had known hardship for most of her life until her dancing skills saw her progress through clubs to Broadway chorus lines where her frequent facial mugging and quicksilver movement soon made her a favorite with audiences, if not her fellow-chorus girls.

By the mid-twenties she had arrived in Paris whose citizens welcomed her animalistic quality on stage with open arms and soon she was starring at the Follies Bergeres which featured her performing her famous version of the Charleston in her skirt of artificial bananas. Her onstage semi-nudity seemed to come natural to her and she was soon the toast of French intelligentsia. Although she married a Frenchman in the 1930s, Josephine was not adverse to women as well including a relationship with Frida Kahlo.

The 1930s saw her refining her persona to that of a sleek chanteuse and starring in two successful films "Zouzou" with Jean Gabin and "Princess Tam-Tam". By now she had adopted her song "J'ai Deux Amours" as her anthem: 'I Have Two Loves / My country and Paris" although America paid scant interest in her when she returned for an engagement with the Ziegfeld Follies. She remained in France during the Nazi occupation. Like Édith Piaf, Josephine was involved in covert work for the Resistance and after the war she was awarded the Croix de Guerre.

In the 1950s she adopted 12 children of different nationalities called her 'Rainbow Tribe' but this led her into financial problems which meant she had to constantly work to provide for them. In 1951 she was also involved in a nasty incident at the Stork Club in New York when she was affronted at being kept waiting for an hour for her meal and accusing the club of racism left the club, accompanied by Grace Kelly who refused to go back ever again. Her complaint against the club was dismissed four years later.

She died in 1975 aged 68, four days after opening at the Bobino Music Hall in a musical celebration of her 50 years in show business. She had been found surrounded by newspapers carrying rave reviews for her show. Now that's a way to go.

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