A Brand New Novel
Josephine Baker, the early-20th-century African-American dancer, comic, and singer–hugely famous in Paris. Did you know that she was also a spy for the French Resistance during WWII?
Josephine Baker adored Paris. “J’ai Deux Amours,” her signature song, said it all: “Two loves have I: My country and Paris.” Unlike with her many other loves, however, her feelings for the City of Lights were requited in full measure. The people of Paris loved Josephine Baker, too, passionately, exuberantly, and faithfully, even after her death.
Arguably the most famous woman in the world and certainly the highest-paid performer, Josephine debuted in Paris at age 19 in “Le Revue Negre” in the Theatre Champs-Elysees. From then until she died, in 1975, La Josephine lived throughout the city in luxury and splendor: in an apartment of marble and gold on the Champs-Elysees, in fancy hotels, in a mansion in the wealthy suburb of Le Vesinet, and more. Closest to her heart, perhaps, was in the eclectic artists’ and musicians’ enclave of Montmartre, home to Pablo Picasso, Pierre-August Renoir, La Folies Bergere, Bricktop’s jazz club, and — yes — Josephine Baker.
My trip to France in search of Josephine begins in Montmartre, where tourists and locals rub elbows at the boulangerie, musicians play accordions and guitars on the streets, accompanied by the clink of espresso cups on saucers and forks and knives on plats de jour, and revelry continues even on the hottest nights until the wee, witching hours; where the city’s highest hill poses a challenge that even, thanks to the Funiculaire, the faintest of heart can meet, and where the cathedrals have bouncers, asking, “Can you read?” of the tourists discussing their day’s itinerary before turning around the sign admonishing SILENCE.
I fell in love almost at first sight with Montmartre. I imagine that Josephine did, as well. See these sights, the first of many I’ll show you from the magical 18th arrondissement, and you’re bound to understand the infatuation: