Here’s the latest book I’m reading, and I highly recommend it: JOSEPHINE BAKER AND THE RAINBOW TRIBE. It’s by Matthew Pratt Guterl who has done an incredible job of researching the life of Josephine Baker and attempting to separate fact from fiction in the retelling of her story.
If you don’t know who Josephine Baker is, then she’s someone you may wish to look up. I first heard of her in a college history class called “Weimar Culture and Cabaret,” which tied in the events in pre-Nazi Germany – and Europe – with the cabaret scene. One day the professor brought in a recording of Josephine Baker singing a song in French. She was, we were told, an American Black woman from St. Louis who had found fame on the stages of New York and Paris. The voice on the LP record that he played for the class was the clearest I’d ever heard.
Josephine was appalled at the racist environment in the USA and found the relaxed atmosphere of 1920’s France a lot more to her liking. She was to remain there. During World War II, she was an active member of the French Resistance.
After the war, wanting to make a statement about the pointlessness of racism, she adopted children of all races, and from all over the world, along with her French husband, Jo Bouillon, who happened to be White. It was the first instance the world had ever seen of inter-racial adoption. They adopted a grand total of twelve children and raised them in a castle!
Josephine called her family “The Rainbow Tribe.” It always puts a smile on my face whenever I think of the term. It’s so great to find a book that covers their whole story.
It’s a bit complicated, though, and so is Josephine. Josephine’s heart may have been in the right place, but was her head? The circumstances behind some of the adoptions are also not as ideal as I would have liked to believe. It turns out that the children’s upbringing was far from the image of perfection initially presented to the world, yet the story is nonetheless fascinating.
BRAVO, Matthew Pratt Guterl, for putting this great narrative together, too!
Josephine singing “J’ai Deux Amours” – “I Have Two Loves.” She was referring to her country and to Paris.