Lauren E. Turner, Director
A performer/director/ producer, and community facilitator, Lauren is driven by her interest in equitable, place-based, culturally relevant theatre especially as it pertains to the global south. She is directing this production of An Homage to Josephine Baker and is also the Artistic Director for No Dream Deferred NOLA. Her work lives where storytelling, community building, and politics intersect.
FROM LAUREN E. TURNER:
You want to know my secret? Change. But the pose must be true.
Josephine Baker and the way she lived her life is the gift that keeps on giving. Her story is one of the beauty and power that comes with the ability to reinvent yourself time and time again.
But the pose must be true.
How did she embrace the ebbs and flows of reinvention while maintaining her authenticity and sense of purpose?
Black Women as shapeshifters and waymakers is not a new story. Since being trafficked to America in as early as 1619, we have found ways in spite of bondage and ever-present violence to create physical and mental spaces for self-expression, creativity, education, child-rearing, liberation, and joy. We have defied the limitations placed on our lives by those who wish to dim our light, minimize our power and ultimately destroy us. Josephine Baker most definitely was a shapeshifter. Born only 41 years ( not even a full lifetime) after the ending of slavery in the United States, she built a career as a performer, primarily driven by the audacious idea that she was destined to thrive, not merely survive. Josephine Baker did whatever was necessary to create a self-determined life of dignity, pleasure, and art.
Reinventing yourself, time and time again, while perhaps necessary to survival, is absolutely exhausting. The time and space to simply just “be’” becomes less accessible for prolific people like Josephine Baker. She was always “on” and when not performing, she was left with her own internal reckoning of the trauma that undoubtedly comes with surviving some of the most brutal racial violence in our history. She was constantly vacillating between the person she had reinvented herself to be and the person who had endured so much and journeyed so far. That resonates deeply with me. She was “both, and”, all of these things.
Despite popular thought, allowing yourself the space to be many things does not render you inauthentic, but offers the most true depiction of the human experience. We are all the sum of our experiences, values, and relationships. Josephine knew this and her “pose” whether elegant or not, remained true throughout her life. She never lost herself.
Josephine Baker was a child of East St. Louis.
Josephine Baker was the first Black Woman to star in a major motion picture in 1927, the most celebrated performer of Folies Bergere in Paris, a French Resistance agent, and civil rights activist.
Josephine Baker was “ Black Pearl” and “ Bronze Venus”. She was admired by Hemingway and served as a muse for Picasso.
Josephine Baker was the mother of 12 children.
Josephine Baker was a “colored” woman.
Josephine Baker was a Black Woman.
Josephine Baker was a woman.
She continues to light my way as a primary example of my own power to transform my reality and therefore create a future that serves and honors all that I am and all that I could possibly dream myself to be. She reminds me that all parts of who I am matter, none are disposable and that while my ability to change and reinvent myself is a skill, remaining true to myself is the real gift.
Lauren E. Turner
Excerpt from the March on Washington:
“You know I have always taken the rocky path. I never took the easy one, but as I get older, and as I knew I had the power and the strength, I took that rocky path, and I tried to smooth it out a little. I wanted to make it easier for you. I want you to have a chance at what I had. But I do not want you to have to run away to get it.”
Terms from An Homage to Josephine
East St. Louis Race Riots (1917)
On July 1, 1917, a rumor spread claiming that a white man had been killed by a black man, and tensions boiled over. The next day, the city of East St. Louis exploded in the worst racial rioting the country had ever seen. Most of the violence — drive-by shootings, beatings, and arson — targeted the African American community. The riots raged for nearly a week, leaving nine whites and hundreds of African Americans dead and property damage estimated at close to $400,000. More than six thousand black citizens, fearing for their lives, fled the city.
Minstrel shows/blackface minstrelsy/corking
These phrases are British and American theatrical forms made famous in the early 19th to the early 20th century, founded on the comic enactment of racial stereotypes. The form gradually disappeared from the professional theatres and became a vehicle purely for amateurs; its influence endured— in vaudeville, radio, and television and the motion-picture and world music industries of the 20th and 21st centuries. (Brittanica)
Blackface minstrelsy, which derived its name from the white performers who blackened their faces with burnt cork, was a form of entertainment that reached peak popularity in the mid-nineteenth century. Using caricatures of African Americans in song, dance, tall tales, and stand-up comedy, minstrelsy was immensely popular with white audiences. These caricatures usually featured the uncultured, parochial, happy-go-lucky southern plantation slave (Jim Crow) in his tattered clothing or the urban dandy (Zip Coon or Dandy Jim), frequently presented as slow-talking, mischievous, and gaudily overdressed. Both were dim-witted, lazy, and intensely fond of watermelon and chicken. For several decades these two stereotypes remained the most enduring of American minstrelsy.
A significant change in minstrelsy was the development of troupes composed of black performers. Whereas the few that had existed in the early days had not been considered necessary, the impact of black companies was realized after the Civil War. The troupes provided a showcase for the talents of black musicians. In addition to plantation scenes and caricatures popularized by white performers, black troops often incorporated African American religious music in their shows. The more popular included the Original Georgia Minstrels, Haverly’s Colored Minstrels, Sprague’s Georgia Minstrels, and W.S. Cleveland’s Colored Minstrels. By the turn of the century, most professional troupes had turned from classic minstrelsy to burlesque, the predecessor of the Broadway musical, and a form only marginally connected with minstrelsy. Nevertheless, among amateur performers and producers, minstrelsy continued as a popular form of American entertainment well into the 1920s
Broadway musical in two acts written by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle that premiered in 1924. This was Josephine Bakers’ 2nd Broadway show as a chorister and 2nd time working with Blake and Sissle. This show was considered one “the most picturesque show that a colored company ever presented to Broadway.”
Négritude was an anti-colonial cultural and political movement founded by African and Caribbean students in Paris in the 1930s who sought to reclaim the value of blackness and African culture. (state)
Exoticism is a form of representation in which peoples, places, and cultural practices are depicted as foreign from the perspective of the composer and intended audience. (oxford)
The term exoticism describes a cultural phenomenon that projects Western fantasies about profound cultural differences… Notions of the exotic are associated with the lush vegetation of the tropics; they conjure up ideas of bountiful nature, fertility, and uninhibited sexuality. (encyclopedia.com)
Chocolate Dandies Photo (Josephine and an unnamed actor)
Chocolate Dandies poster
La Revue Négre(1925)
Video Resources and Bibliography
Bix Beiderbecke’s piano work “In the Mist” excerpted throughout the opera:
Blackface: A cultural history of a racist art form:
Shuffle Along revival documentary:
Josephine Baker at the Folies Bergère:
La Revue des Revues 1927 (Josephine Baker) dubbed sound:
March on Washington:
Josephine Baker in Conversation (1971) Parts 1 and 2:
Josephine: The Story of An Awakening: