Americans in France
Americans in France #1
BAKER, Josephine (1906-1975)
Singer and dancer, born in St-Louis, MO
She was born Freda Josephine McDonald and spent her childhood in the slums of that city. After joining a traveling theatrical company, she accepted a dancing role in "La Revue Nègre" in Paris. Within a short time, she joined the Folies-Bergère, where she gained notoriety with her "danse sauvage" ("wild dancing") and her famous banana skirt.
After becoming a French citizen in 1937, she spent her life in southwestern France with her twelve adopted children.
On April 15, 1975, at the Madeleine Church, Josephine Baker received the grandest funeral for an American ever witnessed in Paris. She was the only American woman to receive a 21-gun salute. The hundreds of floral arrangements were later distributed throughout Paris and placed on the monuments to those who died in World War II.
BALDWIN, James (1924-1987)
Writer, born in New York City, NY
Born in Harlem, Baldwin turned to writing after an early career as a young preacher. In 1948, he won a grant from the Rosenwald Fellowship, which enabled him to move to Paris. He became part of a group of black expat American writers that also included Chester Himes and Richard Wright, whom Baldwin considered his literary mentor. Baldwin lived in Europe for ten years, residing mainly in Paris and Istanbul. During this period he wrote his first two novels, Go Tell It on the Mountainand Giovanni’s Room, as well as an essay, Notes of a Native Son. In 1957 he returned to the United States to become involved with the civil rights movement. After 1969 he divided his time between New York, New England, and St. Paul de Vence, on the French Riviera, where he died in 1987.
BEACH, Sylvia (1887-1962)
Publisher, born in Baltimore, MD
She held the best known American address in Paris between 1921 and 1940 : Shakespeare and Company (12, rue de l'Odéon, 6th), a lending library and a bookshop of English-language books. On July 11, 1920, she met James Joyce at a party. The result was an agreement to publish Ulysses in France. During the 1920's, every American writer in Paris frequented her bookstore to borrow books. An important Walt Whitman exhibition was held there from April 21 to June 20, 1926. Joyce, who needed money, negociated with Bennett Cerf of Random House to publish an American edition of Ulysses. The novel was published in America in February 1934. Sylvia Beach received nothing for her rights as the publisher of Ulysses. The Depression sent American expatriates home and tourists became rare. The bookshop was kept alive from the mid-thirties on by the generosity of sponsorships. In 1941, she closed her shop and hid until Liberation. Her autobiography, Shakespeare and Company, was published in 1959. She died in Paris on October 4, 1962.
BECHET, Sydney (1897-1959)
Jazz musician, born in New Orleans, LA
A former child prodigy, Bechet first came to Europe between 1925 and 1929, playing in England, France and Germany. On October 2, 1925, he took part with Josephine Baker in the opening of the “Revue Nègre” at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, on Avenue Montaigne (8th). In 1949, he was invited to the Salle Pleyel Jazz Festival in Paris, caused a sensation, and decided to settle permanently in France, because, he said, he “felt that it was nearer to Africa.” He frequently played alongside Frenchman Claude Luter, in the Club du Vieux-Colombier (6th) and in Juan-les-Pins (on the French Riviera). Within a couple of years he was a major celebrity and a national hero in France, notably thanks to such compositions as Petite Fleur, Dans les Rues d’Antibes or Rue des Champs-Élysées. He gave his last concert on December 20, 1958, at the Salle Wagram in Paris. He is buried in Garches near Paris, where he lived from 1956 until his death on May 14, 1959.