Josephine Baker, from New-York to Paris
Paris made it possible for Mistinguett and Maurice Chevalier to revolutionize the world of the music hall, and also, more surprisingly, for a Black American artist, the "Ebony Venus" Josephine Baker, to win fame the world over as the first international black star, and activist.
After the Great War, many neighborhoods in the City of Light and the surrounding region were simply bursting with creativity and incredible boldness.
All social classes danced away to Jazz, Ragtime, and the Foxtrot, then the Charleston, imported by African-American soldiers. This music sounded very much like the freedom Europe hoped for at last.
There were those who Paris fell in love with and who got the City of Light's feet tapping such as Sidney Bechet with his timeless success, Eugene James Bullard who pioneered the jazz club in Paris, and other performers who really made their mark including Django Reinhardt and Duke Ellington to name but two.
But, behind the scenes, there were also those who strove to build this history and enabled its light to shine bright and long. Caroline Dudley Reagan, Boris Vian and Baroness Kathleen Annie Pannonica de Koenigswarter are among them.
This "Harlem in Montmartre Museum" project is born out of our desire to pay homage to this fascinating and timeless chapter of history, and to remember those who helped write it. We have brought together private archives and partners so that together we can remember a socio-cultural movement that was like no other anywhere in the world. This shared moment in our shared history was, and will always remain for us all, a wonderful and concrete example of liberty, fraternity, and creativity.
Our approach is that we want this museum to be fun, inspiring, and educational for every generation. We have learned to understand this world which seems so far away and yet so near; to understand what made these people, so different at the time, so happy to live together. They shared a hunger for emancipation, a burning desire to celebrate a brotherhood rediscovered after such a devastating war. "What if jazz had a second life in a country of liberty and human rights?” One thing is clear: the grandeur and beauty that had been France's in times gone by sometimes flirted with the unreal for our generation. This happened to such an extent, you sometimes wonder whether we are capable of really understanding what it was like given that we were never actually there, except in our thoughts. We can be sure of this though; what took place in the history of the City of Light - resistance in the defense of a shared ideal - is written like a music score. There was a will to make humanity better, a moment of grace in which men and women wanted, with all their beings, to reinvent life in Paris.
This was the golden age of Harlem in Montmartre, of the Grand Duke of Eugene Bullard, the wild Paris of Josephine Baker in the Roaring Twenties. It also inspired the incredible, post-Second World War era that was the famous "jazz in Paris", led by artists such as Kenny Clarke, Bill Coleman, Arthur Briggs, Johnny Griffin and Bud Powell. And we mustn't forget the legendary Quintette du Hot Club de France, which, with the flair of true genius, supported this African-American movement by adding a gypsy touch to jazz.
Our online museum retraces the journey of jazz in France, exploring its influence on French culture thanks to the charisma and talent of legendary African-American artists in France during the Roaring Twenties. To mark the centenary of the Great War and for our official opening, we decided to first take a look at the themes surrounding the arrival of jazz in France.