US Born Performer Josephine Baker Inducted Into Pantheon In France

Wednesday, December 1st 2021, 8:21 am
By: CBS News

American-born performer and civil rights activist Josephine Baker is making history again. Nearly half a century after her death, the legendary singer and dancer is receiving France's highest honor.

The revered voice of Josephine Baker echoed through France's famous Panthéon monument and the streets around Tuesday. 46 years after her death, Baker has become the first Black woman, the first performer, and the first American to receive a place at the Panthéon.

While Baker's body was buried in Monaco, a coffin filled with soil from there, the U.S. and France was carried to the Panthéon's crypt.

President Emmanuel Macron called Baker an "exceptional figure" who embodies the French spirit.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Baker shot to stardom on the stage in the 1930s, especially in France. She moved to France in 1925 to escape racism and segregation in America. She later married a Frenchman, and in World War II, the French government recruited her as a spy. Her fame served her well as she was able to pass coded messages hidden in her sheet music.

Giving Baker France's highest honor is a move meant to send a message against racism and to celebrate U.S.-French connections. "Any promotion of a Black person such as Josephine Baker is good news in many ways," says Director General of the National Museum of Immigration History Pap Ndiaye.

Baker famously sang that she had two loves, "my country and Paris." Now, that love is returned at her resting place, reserved for just dozens of France's greatest treasures.

Baker also waged a fight against discrimination, adopting 12 children from different ethnic backgrounds to form what she called her "rainbow tribe."