Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe
Harvard University Press, $43.95 hb, 250 pp
When Josephine Baker died in Paris in April 1975, it was almost fifty years since her sensational triumph in that city in 1925 as the star of La Revue Nègre. Her legendary status in France today remains linked to her emblematic role in the extraordinary unleashing of emotion and sensuality that came with the French Jazz Age and its upheaval of tradition. But her image also includes her work in the Resistance during the German Occupation, work which saved lives and assisted vital communication, earning her the Croix de Guerre, the Resistance Medal, and the Legion of Honour. Both culturally and politically she is perceived as a figure of liberation. Her experiment in adopting a large multiracial family – The ‘Rainbow Tribe’ – and raising the children in her Dordogne château, while generally shrugged off as a failed Utopian dream, and the cause of the financial ruin that necessitated her rescue by Princess Grace of Monaco, is also seen as evidence of a laudable anti-racist stance. And her humanitarian activism in the United States and South America are folded into the same positive picture of a woman who, having chosen France as her heartland, has been elected by the French as a national treasure.