Thursday, July 26, 2012

Josephine Baker at Paris en Chansons Exhibition

The city of Paris has mounted a phenomenal, one-of-a-kind exposition called Paris en Chansons that features the celebration of the City of Light in song. The exhibition traces the history of songs about Paris since the Middle Ages. More recently, artists from Aristide Briand to Vanessa Paradis have crooned about Paris' monuments, social life, metro, and everything in between!

Among this group, black artists are few. But one of them remains larger than life: Josephine Baker.

Josephine's face graces the flier that publicizes the event. Inside the exhibit, an illustration of her by Jean Dunand and the program for her performance run in the show Paris qui Remue at the Folies Bergère are the first documents shown in the display table on the ground floor. On the lower level, where the majority of the exposition is mounted, you find numerous items that highlight Josephine's immortalization of Paris in song. Among them are the cover of the sheet music for her recording "Paris Paris Paris," the cover for her album entitled Joséphine Chante Paris, and a video of her singing "J'ai Deux Amours."

Of particular interest are the black & white photos of Josephine that were loaned to the exposition by Roget-Viollet:

Joséphine Baker et Charles Trenet. Paris, Olympia, March 1959
© Studio Lipnitzki / Roget-Viollet

Joséphine Baker (1906-1975), artiste de music hall, aux Folies Bergères,
February 1949
© Studio Lipnitzki / Roget-Viollet

A third image of Josephine in the street surrounded by a band of musicians provides a rare perspective for those who think of her only as an international star. In this photo, which was taken in May 1968, she is modestly dressed and wearing heavy-framed glasses and a wig. The text accompanying the photo says that during the time she was in Paris rehearsing for a comeback performance at the Olympia Theater, she took the time to go into the streets to distribute bouquets of blue, white, and red flowers and sing the melody "Fleur de Paris."

At the end of the exposition there is an open area where visitors can peruse several books that feature many of the artists whose songs are part of the exhibit. Among these books is the recently released biography of Josephine written by her fifth adopted child, Jean-Claude Bouillon-Baker. It is called Un Château sur la Lune. Le Rêve Brisé de Josephine Baker (A Castle on the Moon. The Broken Dream of Josephine Baker). Written in French, this book undoubtedly sheds new insight into the life of Josephine and her family at Les Milandes and Josephine's career.

Two other black artists are included in this exposition. Eartha Kitt's recording of "Mambo in Paris" is one of the songs that you can listen to in the section called "Paris est une fête." Sidney Bechet's "King Porter Stomp" is one of the tracks on a compilation album called Saint Germain des Prés that is displayed in the section of the exposition that focuses on this area of the city.

Listen to Eartha Kitt's "Mambo de Paris" here (#14 in the playlist). Watch Sidney Bechet perform "King Porter Stomp" by clicking here.

The exposition ends on July 29th.

Galerie des Bibliothèques de la Ville de Paris
22, rue Malher
Paris 4e
Métro : Saint-Paul
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 1 PM to 7 PM, Thursday evenings until 9 PM

Entry 6€; Reduced price 4€
Free for children under 14.
Half price on Thursdays from 6 to 9 PM and on Saturdays from 4 to 7 PM


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Café YéYé - Radio Interview

Last month I had the honor of being interviewed by artist and Francophile Marian Hayes (a.k.a. Yeye Lynvonne) of WCSU Radio in Chicago. I was in Boston at the time and was attending the first full day of a conference, still jet lagged from the overseas flight from a few days before. I had scheduled the interview during a break from the conference, but events conspired to make this impossible. With much persistence, we finally had our chat a couple of hours later.

Marian first traveled to France with Chicago State University four years ago for a study abroad program in Nice. She dreams of coming to Paris and reached out to me because an artist friend of hers gave her a copy of my book Paris Reflections: Walks through African-American Paris.

In our interview, we talk about why I moved to Paris, Discover Paris! tours, the Black Experience in Paris, and more.

Click on the image below to listen to excerpts of our conversation!

Find Café YéYé and Marian Hayes on Facebook:
Café YéYé
Marian Hayes

For more Discover Paris! radio interviews, visit the Media Café at the Paris Insights Web site:
Paris Insights Media Café - radio interviews


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chocolat the Clown

Chocolat the clown ( Rafael) was an icon of the French circus in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born a slave in Havana, Cuba, he was the first black artist of the French stage. His story was first recorded in a book called Les Memoires de Footit et Chocolat clowns, published in 1907 (in French).

Les Memoires de Footit et Chocolat clowns
Book cover

A more recent publication, Chocolat, clown nègre by Gérard Noiriel (in French), attempts to complete Padilla's story by including information from sources such as public archives, films, drawings, and lithographs.

Chocolat, clown nègre
Book cover

I don't remember when I first became aware of Chocolat. I do remember that I only knew of him as the on-stage foil for the scorn and abuse of the white clown named Footit. One of the slogans that became associated with him was "le nègre battu et content (beaten and content)"

Felix Potin ad for a chocolate product
Joë Bridge, ca. 1922

The pair performed in typical slapstick style and was extremely popular. They were star performers at the Nouveau Cirque, rue Saint-Honoré, in Paris' 1st arrondissement.

Footit et Chocolat, chaise en bascule (1899) - Lumière

Noiriel's book provides a critical, and more importantly, a balanced look at Rafael's life. I've only begun to read it and am looking forward to learning more about this legendary figure.


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Black Paris Profiles™: Bob Tomlinson

Bob Tomlinson is an artist, a retired French professor, and a long-time Paris resident who made the City of Light his home “by accident”! He lived in Paris during the 1968 uprising, moved away for several years, and then came back and established permanent residency in the city. I am pleased to include his unique and fascinating story in the Black Paris Profiles™ series.

Bob Tomlinson and Anna Comnena (The Screaming Woman)
(2008) Oil and collage on canvas

Robert (Bob) Tomlinson first visited Paris in June 1963. His original, highly romantic intention was to live and paint for a year in a Spanish fishing village, but he was dissuaded from this dream when he actually saw life under the dictator Franco. Though Spain was even more economically stressed at that time than it is today and Americans could live very well on their dollars, Bob found the situation depressing. He realized that he was ready to return to the U.S. but was embarrassed to return so quickly, so he decided to stay “somewhere” for a few months.


Black Paris Profiles is now available on Kindle.  Only excerpts are available on this blog.
To get your copy of Black Paris Profiles, click HERE.


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