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Paris BluesAfrican American Music and French Popular Culture, 1920-1960$
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Andy Fry

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780226138787

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226138954.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 27 September 2021

“Du jazz hot à La Créole”

“Du jazz hot à La Créole”

Josephine Baker Sings Offenbach

(p.123) 3. “Du jazz hot à La Créole”
Paris Blues

Adny Fry

University of Chicago Press

In a change of pace from the previous two, chapter 3 focuses on one performer, Josephine Baker, and primarily on one show, her unlikely 1934 revival of Offenbach’s La Créole. Wrapping original and revised texts, reception and biography together in the operetta’s plot, it considers how the same tensions as characterized French reactions to “others” and their music in chapters 1 and 2 played themselves out on the level of theatrical narrative. La Créole, it argues, at once completed the construction, and tested the limits, of a complex redefinition of Baker as French. If most observers saw Baker’s transformation as an affirmation of France’s “civilizing mission,” the few dissenters paradoxically risked insisting on her difference in terms of an essentialized blackness. A comparison with other musical treatments of a similar story (Carmen, Madama Butterfly) and contemporary Baker films (Princesse Tam-Tam, Zouzou) reveal the unhappy logic of their argument. Recognizing both “savage” and “civilized” personas as witty performances relocates Baker’s agency. It may even help to move beyond fixed racial categories to dynamic cultural processes: “creolization.” While Baker was highly skilled at mediating audience expectations, however, this chapter concludes that she was never wholly able to escape them.

Keywords:   Josephine Baker, Offenbach, operetta, French identity, civilizing mission, blackness, performance of identity, creolization

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