Josephine Baker:A Life of Le Jazz Hot!
Imani Winds performed a tribute to Josephine Baker, this centennial year, Tuesday, October 24, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, a part of the San Francisco Performances 2006-07 season.
I'd been following Baker's 100th birthday events since June when her Parisian fans hosted a tribute honoring her. It was the same day as the Black Holocaust Remembrance hosted by the brothers and sisters in Charlotte, North Carolina, and elsewhere, the second Saturday in June. (This day, Baker's birthday was also the final day of the Katerine Dunham event.)
Rene Marie was also on the bill, as was Rachael Ashley, dancer.
The ensemble, featuring Joseph Thompkins, percussion, Valerie Coleman, flute, Toyin Spellman-Diaz, oboe, Mariam Adam, clarinet, Jeff Scott, french horn, and Monica Ellis, basson.
Dived into several suites or acts, the program was a musical overview of a woman's life, a woman known for her banana dance -- the skirt of fruit, chest bare...when Baker hit Paris, Paris fell in love with this outrageously free black woman.
Born to Carrie McDonald and vauville drummer, Eddie Carson in 1906, in St. Louis, Freda Josephine McDonald, was made for the stage -- her big break coming while she was a cast member of the first African American musical on Broadway, Eubie Blakes' "Shuffle Along."
She played the baffon, yet because she was so cute, with her big eyes and piie hair cut, not too dark and so not threatening...Baker had a long and ilustrius career, one interrrupted with marriage, miscarriages, and eventually retirement to raise her 12 adopted childre...a menagerie if one can say so of kids.
The evening tribute utilized multimedia with live accompaniment to a series of short clips of films Baker starred. It was great,almost as if Baker could hear the music, it was that sicronized.
Rene Marie was lovely as she sang an original song about Baker's life: Sassy when she strutted her stuff later on in Baker's "Don't Touch the Tomatoes," subdued when she returned dressed alomst as a monk, the lyrics in French, then the finale -- Baker's last concert, Marie once more la belle.
In a production which was as much musical theatre as it was a concert, Imani Winds certainly has expanded its fan base. I'd attended because Rene Marie was performing with them and the cypher was Josephine Baker.
A women who wanted so much to belong, yet never did.