Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Josephine Baker: Singer, Dancer, Spy, Hero
If you read my memoir Kinky Gazpacho, you know Josephine Baker was my childhood idol. I ran away to Spain, because Josephine ran to France. She hailed from the Midwest (St. Louis) as did I (Milwaukee). She was a talented singer and dancer, and I never met a microphone I didn't love. As far as I was concerned, by age 12 I knew my life would be lived in the footsteps of La Baker, minus the whole banana skirt incident.
For me, Josephine Baker represented everything a Black woman could do when unfettered by the constraints of a racist society. She lived her life fighting against expectations. I know she was far from perfect -- because really who is -- but it seemed that everything she did was a protest against the system. Her family of adopted children from every nation. Her expat existence in Europe. And her work as a spy for the French resistance. In my mind, Josephine Baker was James Bond, Wonder Woman, Mary Poppins and Diana Ross all rolled up into one. And I wanted to be just like her.
So, I just found out that the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC is hosting a special lecture: Josephine Baker: Singer Dancer, Spy on Wednesday March 6. The description of the program states:
From Broadway to the Rue Fontaine, the extraordinary Josephine Baker
was the toast of the international nightclub circuit. Born in the United States, the talented African American singer-dancer moved to France to escape racism in America and became an enormous star. She triumphed at the Folies Bergère and enjoyed the acclaim of European society. Her affection for France was so great that when World War II broke out, she volunteered to spy for her adopted country. Her café society fame enabled her to rub shoulders with those in the know, from high-ranking Japanese officials to Italian bureaucrats, and report back what she heard. She heroically stayed in France after the invasion working closely with the French Resistance to undermine the Nazi occupation. Her espionage exploits are just one chapter in Baker’s extraordinary life.
Join Jonna Mendez, former CIA chief of disguise, as she reveals
Baker’s intelligence work and places it in the context of her exciting and celebrated life.
If I lived in DC, I'd be there in a hot second. Those of you who do live there, somebody please go and tell me all about it.
(Hat tip to Harvetta at Presse Books for the info.)