Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe

Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe

Josephine Baker and the Rainbow Tribe

by Matthew Pratt Guterl

Harvard University Press (Footprint), $43.95 hb, 250 pp, 9780674047556

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.

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Published in October 2014 no. 365
Colin Nettelbeck

Colin Nettelbeck

Colin Nettelbeck is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Melbourne, where he held the A.R. Chisholm Chair of French. He taught previously at the University of California (Berkeley) and Monash University. He has written extensively about twentieth-century and contemporary French literature, cinema, and cultural history, with special focus on the French experience of World War II. His most recent book is Dancing with de Beauvoir: Jazz and the French, published by Melbourne University Press in 2004. His essay ‘Kneecapper: a Trip to Happiness’ (published in the Autumn 2011 Meanjin Quarterly) was shortlisted for the 2010 Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay. He was awarded second prize in the 2012 Calibre Prize for ‘Now They’ve Gone’.

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