Joséphine Baker

TrackLabel / Year
Who?Odéon 1926
Love Is A DreamerColumbia 1927
Bye Bye BlackbirdOdéon 1927
Confessin' (That I Love You)Columbia 1931
Vous Faites Partie De Moi (I've Got You Under My Skin)Columbia 1937
Comme une Banque (I'm Feelin' Like a Million)Columbia 1937
Paris, Paris Columbia 1937
J'ai Deux AmoursColumbia 1937
Romance aux EtoilesPacific 1949
Piel CanelaColumbia 1953




Contributor: John Chamberlain

I have come to Joséphine Baker late in life since living in France and, on that basis, it ocurred to me that perhaps not too many people on Toppermost may know of her.

Joséphine was born in St. Louis, USA in 1906 to Carrie McDonald and an unknown father. She was brought up by her aunt and grandmother and became a child of the streets where she learned to dance. Growing up she had many small jobs and also learnt to play the trombone. Aged 13, she managed to work briefly, dancing with the Dixie Steppers where she adopted her strange style of grimacing and rolling the eyes! During the first part of the twenties she appeared in various shows. She was spotted by Caroline Dudley, a white American francophile. Joséphine was offered the starring rôle in the Revue Nègre in Paris. She was only 19.

Once there, she was asked to dance nude and after a lot of persuasion agreed. The first show was a scandal according to some but the next day it was the talk of Paris. The revue began to tour with success and scandales depending on the town.

In 1926, she recorded her first disques for Odéon; Who?, That Certain Feeling, Dinah, I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight. After that, she departed for a two year tour of Europe and South America.

She was starring at the Casino de Paris in 1932 and recorded several songs from this revue for Columbia. Her latest lover, who had been guiding her for some years, became enraged at an affair she had started and arrived in the wings at the Casino brandishing a knife. After this, he disappeared from her life and went to Switzerland.

In 1935, she started flying lessons and horseriding and purchasing a number of cars. She returned to the US at the end of the year in the Ziegfeld Follies but she was caught up in the racism problems and was refused access to hôtels, similar to the difficulties Billie Holiday experienced, having to use the back entrance while the band came in at the front. She returned to France the next year but with little cash she had to make some economies.

In 1937, she took French nationality and passed her pilot’s licence. At the end of the year she recorded a number of English/American songs for Columbia in English and French versions, including Easy To Love and There’s A Small Hôtel. Wal-Berg and his orchestre provided the backing.

In 1938, Joséphine started to rent the Château des Mirandes in Dordogne. The following year, after some touring, she returned to Paris as war broke out and was recruited as an agent “contre espionage”. In 1940, she was again recording with Columbia. From then until the end of the war she relocated to Ager, Marrakech. She suffered from ill health but in 1947 she succeeded in buying her château.

She was busy for some years with her château and various tours all over the world. Returning to Paris in 1953 she wrote the words to Dans mon Village which she recorded with Jo Bouillon. In 1959, she recorded eight songs with RCA from her revue, Paris mes Amours, and the following year, two singles, and an album Joséphine chante l’amour. 1960/61 brought two more 45s and another album, Joséphine chante Paris. The years that followed were not good, with the forced sale of her château, but by the mid seventies she was touring in Japan, along with a very well received appearance at the then new Sporting Club de Monte Carlo. In March 1975, she made her last recordings, sadly dying from a brain haemorrhage.

At the funeral as the coffin exited the church the organist played J’ai Deux Amours. Joséphine Baker is interred at Monaco.


Joséphine Baker wikipedia

Joséphine Baker biography (Apple Music)

TopperPost #180

1 Comment

  1. Ian Ashleigh
    Jan 29, 2014

    Al Stewart’s appreciation of Josephine Baker from his 1988 album ‘Last Days of the Century’ and the subsequent live album ‘Rhymes in Rooms’ (1992) features in Toppermost #139.

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