David and Art – “An American in Paris”


A dancer and singer of the jazz age will soon be in the company of famous French philosophers and novelists.

One of the most famous sites in Paris is a Roman-style temple called the Pantheon. When construction began in the mid-1700s, it was intended to be a church. But, by the time it was completed, the French Revolution was underway, so it was reused as the final resting place for French luminaries in politics, science, and the arts.

The philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau are there; novelists like Victor Hugo and Emile Zola; key politicians like Léon Gambetta and Jean Jaurès; scientists like Marie Curie. On November 30, they

will be joined by an American. An African American. An African American woman. Her name is Josephine Baker.

Baker was born in 1906 in St. Louis and grew up wanting to be a dancer. In the early 1920s, she was in New York City working in choir lines. Eventually she got a job with the traveling production of Mix along, one of the most important Broadway musicals of its time. Still, she didn’t have a big breakthrough until she left the country to perform in France. She arrived in Paris on September 22, 1925.

In the 1930s, she was best known as a jazz singer and became a French citizen in 1937. Her star status helped her become a special agent during WWII to fight the Nazi occupation. Her house was used as a base by the French resistance, and as it performed across Europe, it carried secret messages written in invisible ink on sheet music.

After the war she returned to the United States for a triumphant tour, but when dozens of hotels did not let her and her entourage stay there, she spoke out forcefully against segregation, a therefore qualified as a communist and her work permit was canceled. . In 1963, she was an outspoken figure in the civil rights movement and one of only two women to speak out in the 1963 March on Washington. She died in Paris in 1975.

The idea of ​​paying homage to him in the Pantheon has been around for some time, but it gained momentum last May when a petition campaign began. In June, it had 30,000 signatures. Only the French president can decide to induct someone into the Pantheon. But last month President Emmanuel Macron announced his support for him, so in November it will happen.

Essayist and critic Laurent Kupferman said that in “a world turned in on itself, where tribalism and racism are exacerbated, its ideals resonate in the hearts of the people”.

Americans should know this and should be proud of it.

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