Social Media Tributes Pour In for Josephine Baker as the Late Jazz Singer Becomes First Black Woman Inducted Into France’s Pantheon Mausoleum
Legendary jazz singer, resistance fighter and civil rights activist Josephine Baker (pictured above in 1926) is the first Black woman and only the sixth woman overall to be inducted into the Pantheon mausoleum in Paris. Photo: Collection Privee / Contributor
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 the Second World War 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.
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 the First World War 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 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.
(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
Paying Tribute to a Legend
A number of dignitaries and fans took to social media to remember Baker in the wake of the Pantheon honour, including Parisian lawyer turned designer and hotelier Meryanne Loum-Martin, who shared a photo of herself with Baker on Instagram with the caption, “Eleven year-old me with Aunt Josephine at our house in London. Josephine Baker was a friend of my parents.” She went on to recount Baker’s incredible career and honours, as well as work with both the French Resistance and the Civil Rights movement. Loum-Martin concluded with “the vivid memory of our stay in her castle in Dordogne” after the singer had fallen into debt and lost many of her possessions.
“There was no more furniture as it had all been taken by the baillifs. I was eleven and shared an empty room with high ceilings with her many children, the floors bare but for the matresses we slept on. I will never forget that all she would cook were omelets. She was regal, wearing an apron as she prepared our simple lunch, singing as she cooked: J ai deux amours… mon pays et Paris. Years later, I still get goosebumps everytime I hear that melody.”