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CULTURE

Musical legend Josephine Baker to enter France’s Pantheon

The remains of Josephine Baker, a famed French-American dancer, singer and actress who also fought in the French resistance during WWII, will be moved to the Pantheon mausoleum in November, President Emmanuel Macron's office has announced.

Musical legend Josephine Baker to enter France's Pantheon
US-born dancer and singer Josephine Baker performs at the Folies Bergeres cabaret in Paris in 1949. Photo: AFP

It will make Baker, who was born in Missouri in 1906 and buried in Monaco in 1975, the first Black woman to be laid to rest in the hallowed Parisian monument.

A group including one of Baker’s sons campaigning for her induction met with Macron on July 21st, Jennifer Guesdon, one of the members, told AFP.

“When the president said yes, (it was a) great joy,” she said.

“It’s a yes!” Macron said after the July meeting, Le Parisien newspaper reported on Sunday.

A statement from the Elysée on Monday said: “Through this destiny, France has distinguished an exceptional personality, born American, who chose, in the name of her lifelong fight for freedom and emancipation, the eternal France of universal enlightenment.

“A world-renowned music-hall artist, committed to the Resistance, a tireless anti-racism activist, she was involved in all the battles that bring together citizens of goodwill, in France and throughout the world.

“For all these reasons, because she was the embodiment of the French spirit, Josephine Baker, who died in 1975, deserves today the recognition of her country.”

An aide to Macron confirmed to AFP that the ceremony will take place on November 30th.

The Baker family have been requesting her induction since 2013, with petition gathering some 38,000 signatures.

“She was an artist, the first Black international star, a muse of the cubists, a resistance fighter during WWII in the French army, active alongside Martin Luther King in the civil rights fight,” the petition says.

Another member of the campaign group, Pascal Bruckner, said Baker “is a symbol of a France that is not racist, contrary to what some media groups say”.

“Josephine Baker is a true anti-racist, a true anti-fascist,” Bruckner said.

The ceremony will take place on November 30th, the date Baker married Frenchman Jean Lion, allowing her to get French nationality.

The Pantheon is a memorial complex for great national figures in French history from the world of politics, culture and science.

Only the president can decide on moving personalities to the former church, whose grand columns and domed roof were inspired by the Pantheon in Rome.

READ ALSO: Panthéon burial honours French rights icon Simone Veil

Of the 80 figures in the Pantheon, only five are women, including the last inductee Simone Veil, a former French minister who survived the Holocaust and fought for abortion rights, who entered in 2018.

Member comments

  1. Wonderful news! As a someone who worked to support artists during my entire career, I’m humbled by, and proud of, Baker’s achievements. As an American now living in France, I’m grateful and proud that France gave Baker a home where she could excel, and now is honoring her remarkable achievements in this extraordinary way. Bravo to Baker and Bravo to France!

  2. Josephine Baker: The First Black Superstar, an excellent documentary can be viewed for free on YouTube. Well worth an hour of anybody’s time.

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CULTURE

How to make the most of France’s ‘night of museums’ this weekend

More than 3,000 French museums will stay open long past their bedtimes on Saturday May 14th for the 18th Long Night of Museums.

How to make the most of France's 'night of museums' this weekend

The annual event takes place on the third Saturday in May each year in towns and cities across the whole of Europe. There are temporary exhibitions, themed guided visits, musical entertainment, lectures, concerts, food tasting, historical reconstructions and re-enactments, and film projections. Best news of all, almost everything is free. 

Here’s The Local’s guide to getting the most out of the night:

Plan, plan, then throwaway the plan

Consult the online programme and map out your route. A little preparation will make the night much easier – 3,000 museums will be open long into the night in France, and you don’t want to waste hours standing on a bridge arguing about where to go next. 

The site has suggestions for major cities, including Lyon, Dijon, Bourges, Strasbourg, Lille, Rouen, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Marseilles. And four museums that have been closed to the public for years – Musée de Cluny in Paris, the Musée de Valenciennes, the Forum antique de Bavay in Nord and the Musée départemental Albert-Khan in Boulogne-Billancourt – are reopening on the night.

So, decide where you’re going beforehand – then feel free to dump your carefully plotted plan in a bin when you overhear someone else talking about this extraordinary thing they have discovered and go with the flow.

Be patient

When you are consulting the official website, try not to scream. You have to navigate a map rather than a traditional programme format – though, at least, this year it’s broken down in to French regions, which is marginally less frustrating.

It is actually much easier if you know the specific museums you are interested in visiting, as they have individual programmes of events. But half the fun of a night like this is visiting somewhere you’ve never been before.

Wear comfortable shoes and travel light

Wear shoes for the long haul rather than the first impression. There will be distances to cover and you might even find yourself dancing in the middle of a museum. 

And blisters are never a good partner with great art. Leave your skateboard and shopping trolley at home, they will just prove a nuisance when you are going through security checks.

Come early – or late – to avoid endless queues

Arriving at the Louvre at 8pm is always going to mean a giant queue. And nothing ruins a night quicker than spending most of it standing in an unmoving line. Try to escape peak times at the major museums – but check they’re not doing something interesting that you don’t want to miss – hip hop dance classes in the Department of Oriental Antiquities, in the Louvre’s Richelieu wing, for example…

Go somewhere you’ve never been to before

Do a lucky dip. Pick somewhere you’ve never heard of and know nothing about. What about the Musée de Valenciennes, which reopens after years of being closed to the public, for example. Its giving visitors the chance to see its fine art under ultraviolet light – which will reveal things you wouldn’t normally see.

Or you could delve deep into the Aude Departmental Archives, in Carcassonne, and discover the amazing life stories of some of the region’s historical figures

Make it social

Gather the troops, this is a night for multi-generations of family and friends. Art, history and culture, is very much a shared experience and you can usually find something that everyone loves – or hates.

Plan a pitstop

You will always need refreshing and wouldn’t a night of culture be wonderfully enhanced by a delicious picnic on the banks of the Seine, if you’re in Paris. 

Your mind will need a little pause from all the intellectual overload. Find a spot, listen to the music (there’s always music from somewhere) and watch the Bateaux Mouches go by as you eat a baguette with some good local cheese and some saucisson.

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