Culture
FRA | Dec 1, 2021

Jazz singer Josephine Baker first Black woman honoured at France’s Pantheon

/ Our Today

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(REUTERS)

Photographs of Josephine Baker are projected on the Pantheon monument during her induction ceremony in Paris, France, November 30, 2021. (Thibault Camus/ REUTERS)

Josephine Baker, the famed French American singer and dancer, was inducted on Tuesday into the Pantheon mausoleum in Paris – one of France’s highest honours – at a ceremony attended by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Baker, who also served in the French Resistance during World War Two and was a prominent civic rights activist after the war, is the first Black woman and sixth woman to enter the Pantheon, a Paris landmark dominating the city’s Latin Quarter.

She was “a Black person who stood up for Black people, but foremost, she was a woman who defended humankind,” Macron said during a speech.

The cenotaph of Josephine Baker, covered with the French flag, followed by a female aviator of the French Air and Space Force carrying the cushion on which her five decorations are placed, enters to the French Pantheon square through the Great Door, in Soufflot street, Paris, France, November 30, 2021. (Thomas Coex/REUTERS)

He spoke shortly after Baker’s most famous song, “J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris” (“I have two loves, my country and Paris”), was played at the ceremony.

Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1906 but went on to find much of her fame after arriving in Paris in the 1920s, as many Black Americans stayed on in the French capital after World War One and brought over with them American jazz culture.

Baker, who became a French citizen in 1937, died in 1975 and is buried in Monaco.

In this file photo taken on January 1, 1930 French US-born singer and dancer Josephine Baker poses in Paris in the 1930s. – Josephine Baker, the French-American dancer and singer who fought in the French Resistance and later battled racism, will become the first black woman to enter the Pantheon, France’s most hallowed resting place, on November 30, 2021. (Photo: Getty Images)

In accordance with her family’s wishes, Baker’s remains have not been moved to the Pantheon. To represent her presence there, a symbolic coffin was carried into the mausoleum by six pallbearers containing handfuls of earth from four locations: St. Louis, Paris, Monaco and Milandes, in the Dordogne department of France, where Baker owned a castle.

Baker’s empty coffin will lie alongside other French national icons in the mausoleum such as authors Emile Zola and Victor Hugo, the philosopher Voltaire and politician Simone Veil.

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