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Legendary 20th Century Entertainer Josephine Baker Will Make History as First Black Woman to be Buried at Paris Panthéon

Jazz luminary Josephine Baker is making posthumous history as the first Black woman and entertainer to receive burial rights at the Paris Panthéon.

The French temple serves as the burial site of the country’s most revered politicians, wartime heroes, Nobel Prize winners, and, come Nov. 30, also Baker. The American-born dancer-turned-singer-and-actress’ reinterring at the monument will make her the fifth woman — others include Holocaust survivor Simone Veil, French Resistance members Germaine Tillion and Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz, and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Marie Curie.

UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1970: Photo of Josephine Baker Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

French newspaper Le Parisien was the first to announce President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to bestow Paris’ highest burial honor upon the entertainer. Baker died at 68 in 1975. She was buried in Monaco with military honors from her time spent supporting the French Resistance during World War II.

Baker gained notoriety at age 19 when she moved from her hometown of St. Louis to Paris to pursue a career as a burlesque dancer. Known for her barely there attire of string pearls and iconic banana skirt, Baker’s star power quickly turned her into a entertainer whose talents led her to acting, opera, and becoming the wealthiest Black woman in France.

Her reach as a European star made her the perfect wartime recruit to the Resistance, the French military rebellion effort after France surrendered to Germany in 1940. In an effort to gain intel about German plans and movements during the Nazi occupation of France, Baker was enlisted at a spy due to her unique ability to get close to diplomats and international embassies. The intelligence she gleaned helped aid the liberation of Paris. For her work she received France’s top military honors, the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor, and has forever been regarded as a WWII hero in the country. 

News of her final resting place was met with awe and support from those who believe Baker is more than deserving of the honor. Some wrote online, “What an incredible (and well deserved!) honor. She led a remarkable life,” and “what an extraordinary woman she was.”

Stateside, Baker’s influence has been a source of inspiration for acts such as Beyoncé, who has donned stage outfits similar to those of the late performer, as well as being portrayed by icon Diana Ross on Broadway.

While her life story has already been portrayed in the 1990s on television by actress Lynn Whitfield in the “The Josephine Baker Story,” she was recently reintroduced to HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” audience during an episode. At the top of the year it was announced that Baker’s story would once again come to life on television in a miniseries for ABC. She is slated to be portrayed by actress Ruth Neega. LeBron James and business partner Maverick Carter’s production company, The Springhill Company, is at the helm of the project with ABC.

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