Jazz singer Josephine Baker to be inducted into France’s Pantheon

Famed Black French-American singer and WWII hero Josephine Baker inducted into France's Pantheon
French soldiers carry the cenotaph containing soil from various places where famed Black French-American singer and dancer Josephine Baker lived, covered with a French flag, during her induction ceremony into the Pantheon, where key figures from France's history are honoured, in Paris, France, November 30, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier/Pool

November 30, 2021

PARIS (Reuters) – Josephine Baker, the famed French-American singer and dancer, was to be 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, will be the first Black woman and sixth woman to enter the Pantheon.

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 to the steps of the mausoleum containing handfuls of earth from four locations: her U.S. hometown of St. Louis, Paris, Monaco and Milandes, in the Dordogne region of France, where Baker owned a castle.

While the coffin, draped with the French flag, lay in front of the Pantheon, a choir performed songs from Baker’s repertoire and images from her life were projected onto the building’s facade.

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.

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

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Christian Lowe)