Following In The Steps Of Josephine Baker In France

Josephine Baker with her cheetah
Josephine Baker with her cheetah | © epictures/ Flickr
Hattie Ditton

“Black Pearl,” “Bronze Venus,” and “Jazz Cleopatra” were all nicknames given to the fabulous Josephine Baker throughout her life. Paris was an incredibly special place to the American-born singer — it was here that her explosive career first started. She famously said: “I don’t want to live without Paris… It’s my country. I want to be worthy of Paris.”

In a time when the States were not ready to accept performances like hers, Paris welcomed her with open arms. Not only is she an icon of the glamorous Jazz Age and purveyor of the hot jazz genre, but she also went on to work as a spy during the French Resistance and a nurse for refugees during the war. Here are some of the places in the city and across France that were important landmarks for her success and that can be visited today.

Le Vésinet

Baker actually decided to live in the Parisian suburb of Le Vésinet. Perhaps no mansions were big enough for her in the city centre or perhaps she just required a little space from her exuberant and hectic career.

Le Vésinet is less than a half an hour journey from Paris however, and it is here that her ‘villa’ which is called ‘Beau Chêne’ can be found, where she lived with her pet cheetah and family. The house and gardens have barely changed since the years she lived there, thanks to having been immaculately preserved in true French style, but can unfortunately only be admired from afar.

Josephine Baker with her cheetah

Although she may have chosen outside the city, Paris was where she worked and socialized.

1. Hôtel Scribe Paris, at Opéra

Hotel

Scribe Hotel
© Reinhardhauke l WikiCommons
This hotel is most famous for having been where the Lumière brothers first showcased their cinema invention in 1895. Josephine Baker was just one of the famous names to have frequented the luxury rooms, throughout the 1950s with her family, friends and adopted children. Today, the hotel has a wall with an enormous photo of her printed onto it.

2. Bobino theater

Theater, Music Venue

On April 8th 1975, Josephine made her grand come-back performance at the Bobino Theater in Paris, shortly following an unsuccessful trip back to the USA. The audience was made up of many celebrities, including Princess Grace of Monaco. Even if America had not been ready to appreciate her, France was. At this time, she was aged 68 and yet the reviews for this performance, which was a compilation of routines from throughout her career, were some of her best ever.

Listen to Baker singing about her ‘Paris Chéri’ (darling Paris):

3. Église de la Madeleine

Church

Église de la Madeleine
© Shahee l WikiCommons
Sadly, a few days following this epic performance, the star died from a cerebral hemorrhage. Fittingly, her funeral was to be held in Paris, and it was at the Madeleine church in Montparnasse, where Baker had spent so much of her time. It seems only right that such a magnificent woman should have their life celebrated in such a magnificent building.Finally, so much was her popularity in Paris, there are a few places which have been named after her in more recent years…

4. Piscine Joséphine Baker

Swimming Pool

Piscine Josephine Baker
© Dinkum/WikiCommons
Finally, yes, there is a swimming pool named after the wonderful woman. And yes, it is suspended over the River Seine. Although it is obviously too recent to have ever been seen by Baker herself, it is a symbol of how her legacy continues to live on in Paris.However, it was not just Paris that Baker became fond of, in fact her legacy remains across the whole country.

Cimetière de Monaco

Towards the end of Baker’s life, she began to suffer enormous financial turmoil. Luckily, she had befriended Princes Grace of Monaco, who not only backed her financially, was also responsible for organising her comeback show in the Bobino Theater and gave her a home in Monaco. It was therefore at her request that Baker should be buried in the cemetery of Monaco.

Monaco was home to friend Princess Grace

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