- J’AI UN MESSAGE POUR TOI
- THAT CERTAIN FEELING
- YOUR ARE THE ONLY ONE FOR ME
- FEELIN’ KINF O’ BLUE
- LA PETITE TONKINOISE
- PRETTY LITTLE BABY
- J’AI DEUX AMOURS
- DIS-MOI, JOSEPHINE
- VOULEZ-VOUS DE LA CANNE A SUCRE?
- SI J’ETAIS BLANCHE
- NUIT D’ALGER
- VOUS FAITES PARTIE DE MOI
- C’EST SI FACILE DE VOUS AIMER (I’VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN)
- BONSOIR, MON AMOUR
Many people have heard of Josephine Baker but how many
know what kind of person she was before she took Paris by storm during
the 1920s. Born in St.Louis, Missouri from humble beginnings to a washerwoman,
abandoned by her Father, her Mother married again to a kind but perpetually
unemployed man. The family eventually grew to include three more children.
Josephine cleaned houses and babysat for wealthy white families and
at thirteen was a waitress at a club. While waiting at tables she met
and had a brief marriage to Willie Wells, but Josephine was determined
never to depend on a man for support, and when the relationship soured
she left, unusual for a woman of her era. But she was an unusual woman
and married three more times while keeping the name Baker acquired when
married to American Willie Baker in 1921. After that marriage she attained
French citizenship when she married Jean Lion in 1937. Having sang in
Harlem night clubs and at ten working as an extra at the St. Louis music-hall,
she became keen to be a dancer so she ran away to New York where she
joined Eubie Blake and Noble Sissic’s all-black touring show ‘Shuffle
Along’. She was even advised to improve her dancing skills, after
being told she `danced like a Monkey’. Undeterred from her first
ambition, in 1925 she joined the Dudley Dance, a twenty-five strong
group comprising mostly black dancers, singers and musicians who included
the young Sidney Bechet in a European tour of Lew Leslie’s ‘Blackbirds’.
This show hit Paris as `La revue negre’ at the Champs-Elysees
in October 1925 and introduced the Charleston to Paris. `La Baker’ conquered
overnight; resplendently naked apart from strategically placed ostrich
feathers. A combination of stage-presence and cute vocalising meant
she soon outshone all her rivals at the leading nightspots. With her
comic, sensual appeal and her exotic beauty she generated nicknames
like `Black Venus’, `Black Pearl’ and `Creole Goddess’. So famous did
she become that her admirers, and there were many, bestowed a plethora
of gifts, including diamonds and cars, and many offers of marriage.
In October 1926 she recorded "That Certain Feeling"
in Paris. The feeling I had as I listened was here is a singer who is
utterly unique and you need to accept this otherwise you can’t enjoy
her. She sings in a very high pitched voice, very quickly, and to hear
the words it’s necessary to listen carefully. The French jazz band that
accompanies her is ideal for her type of singing, though. A good number
to follow was "Dinah" recorded at the same time. I know this
song and found it enjoyable to listen to again but sung by someone with
a totally different voice to what I am used to and in a very different
way. Josephine’s voice is still shrill but has charm and I can well
imagine how on the stage she could really capture the audience. I loved
the introduction. It’s jazzy and lively and I love the sound of the
Again at the same time Josephine recorded "You
Are the Only One for Me. I was used to her voice by now and in this
number the Jazz Boys play softer so Josephine’s voice comes over loud
and clear. You can imagine her meaning every word. She finishes the
last part of the song with a "La.La.De.La" and I liked the
way she drifts into doing this. Her next recording was from October
1926 with the same band. It’s "Feelin’ Kind O’ Blue", and
although I had become accustomed to Josephine’s unique way of singing,
I found it difficult to understand the words. Also her voice is much
shriller this time. In spite of this it’s worth listening to, providing
you have accepted her style of singing. The arrangement is good too.
At about the same time she recorded "Who". A well-known song
and I found it fascinating to listen to Josephine sing it in her inimitable
way and hear the beat of the Jazz band, including again those woodblocks.
The next recording is from September 1930 with another
French orchestra from the Casino de Paris and it’s a real gem, "La
Petite Tonkinoise". Josephine sings in French, but there is no
need to listen to any words, the number will be enough. I am sure many
of you will immediately recognise the tune and even if you don’t the
rhythm will make you want to stand up and dance. Josephine sings clearly
but in a lower voice. Her next recording comes from the same month but
is a very different song, "Suppose". Josephine sings this
in the serious way it was meant, while at the same time her voice does
appear to have just a hint of pathos and you hear her frequently change
as she tries to explain what they must "suppose". Not a song
for everyone, but one worth hearing for how Josephine can express herself
so eloquently. From the same sessions we have "Pretty Little Baby".
This is a lullaby and Josephine sings it beautifully. It’s as if she
is really holding a baby as she sings and tells it how much she loves
it. She finishes humming the melody with the band playing quietly in
the background. In this song we get to hear another side of Josephine’s
style of singing. Although she doesn’t lose her originality she just
adapts her way of singing this very pretty lullaby. From the same sessions
is a love duet with Adrien Lamy, "J’ai Deux Amours". I wasn’t
impressed with this, even though I liked how she and Adrien Lamy sang
together. I felt both were doing the best they could from a not particularly
good song. A lively number to follow is "Dis-Moi, Josephine"
again from September 1930. Josephine sings in French a song that, by
the tone of her voice, is of someone who is happy and telling you so.
The Orchestra sounds just as merry too. I did wonder if this song was
written for Josephine as her name is in the title and her voice sounds
so delighted. This makes up for the previous one, I think. Finally from
September 1930 is "Voulez-Vous de la Canne a Sucre?" This
is another duet with Adrien Lamy. The introduction is bright and tuneful
and this told me I would enjoy the song and I did.
The next recording we hear from Josephine was made
in January 1933 with Jacques Metchen and his Orchestra. It’s "Si
J’etais Blanche." This is catchy and melodious, and you know when
Josephine joins in she will sing in her usual happy and carefree way.
From February 1933 we have "Madiana" with the Lacuna Cuban
Boys. I loved this number. It’s different in every way. Josephine starts
on a top note, not singing but humming as the Cuban boys start to play.
But she soon starts to sing, still keeping on the top note, and very
soon she pauses, and you hear the Boys hum in the back ground until
she joins them again. An unusual number and one I can well imagine Josephine
floating round on the stage to.
After another interval, in October 1933 she recorded
"Nuit D’alger"with John Ellsworth’s Orchestra. I wasn’t impressed
with this. I thought Josephine lacked that certain something here. Having
listened two or three times I decided there was nothing in the song
she could express any feelings about. In the same month she recorded
"Dou Dou!" A very different song to the previous one, Josephine’s
voice takes on a very different sound in this quiet love song and Josephine
puts a great deal of emotion into her voice. The orchestra is good and
I loved the special sound effects that could occasionally be heard.
A few months later in March 1937 she made "Vous
Faites Partie De Moi (I’ve got you under my skin) with Wal-Berg’s Orchestra.
This is, of course, one of the great standards but I immediately knew
I would hear this sang differently from how it is now. I was right.
Although Josephine sings half in French and the rest in English, you
hear this as a quiet love song with plenty of expression. I like this
version very much. At the same time she recorded "C’est Si Facile
De Vous Aimer". Again we hear Josephine in a quiet love song and
once more how she can so easily adapt her voice to just about everything.
I liked this and marvelled how she could control her voice so well.
In November 1937 she made "J’ai Un Message Pour
Toi (A message from the man in the moon). A pleasant, simple song but
Josephine puts so much expression in her voice once again. Who could
resist the last number, "Bonsoir, Mon Amor (Goodnight My Love)"
recorded at the same time as the previous one. I know this song very
well, and have always liked it. Josephine sings this in the way it really
should be, saying goodnight to someone she loves with all her heart
Again my congratulations to Naxos for transferring
these recordings, enabling us to hear Josephine’s unique voice so clearly.
I can recommend this, as Josephine Baker is a delight to listen to.