Saluting Josephine Baker

Marking the 115th anniversary of Josephine Baker’s birth next week, Indiana University Cinema will stream two of her films free, plus a conversation about the American-born French entertainer who earned such nicknames as “Black Venus,” “Black Pearl” and “Creole Goddess.”

And the following week, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s will present a free performance and two separate discussions.

First up is Princess Tam Tam (1935) on Tuesday, June 1 at 7 pm ET. In this Pygmalion-like comedy, Baker plays a mischievous shepherd girl who rises through society to become the toast of Parisian nightlife. After a Zoom introduction from Indiana University’s Black Film Center/Archive, you’ll receive a web address and password to view the film itself. For a free ticket, visit Zoom.

Then, on Baker’s actual birthday, Thursday, June 3, at 7 pm, Dr. Terri Francis, IU Black Film Center/Archive Director and author of a new book, Josephine Baker’s Cinematic Prism, will discuss the legend and her film career with poet/essayist Hanif Abdurraqi. For a free ticket, visit Zoom.

Registration to either of the above events will also give you access to Zou Zou (1934), a 42nd Street-like musical in which Baker plays an entertainer who saves a theatrical show when its star walks out on the production.

Both Zou Zou and Princess Tam Tam are in French with English subtitles. (You can also stream Zou Zou without subtitles from the Internet Archive)  

The Performing Arts Library/Orchestra of St. Luke’s events will kick off on Monday, June 7, at 5:30 pm ET as playwright/actor Kirya Traber discusses her investigation of Baker’s life with theater critic Linda Armstrong and Orchestra of St. Luke’s Director of Education & Community Engagement Andrew Roitstein. To stream free, register at Eventbrite.

Then, on Wednesday, June 9, at 6:30 pm, Traber will contribute a narrative of Baker’s life alongside a St. Luke’s performance of composer Valerie Coleman’s chamber work, Portraits of Josephine. There will also be a post-show discussion and Q&A. To stream free, RSVP at the Orchestra of St. Luke’s site.

Left: Kirya Traber. Right: Publicity photograph of Josephine Baker. Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.


Lynn Whitfield won an Emmy for playing Baker in the 1991 HBO movie, The Josephine Baker Story, with Brian Gibson also winning as Best Director. The film is not on HBO Max, but you can stream it free on YouTube and right here:

(Top photo: ‘Zou Zou.’ Source: Indiana University Cinema)

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