Musical legend Josephine Baker to enter France’s Pantheon

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
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.

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.

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

  2. 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!

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