Josephine Baker’s Last Dance by Sherry Jones
From the author of The Jewel of Medina, a moving and insightful novel based on the life of legendary performer and activist Josephine Baker, perfect for fans of The Paris Wife and Hidden Figures.
Discover the fascinating and singular life story of Josephine Baker—actress, singer, dancer, Civil Rights activist, member of the French Resistance during WWII, and a woman dedicated to erasing prejudice and creating a more equitable world—in Josephine Baker’s Last Dance.
In this illuminating biographical novel, Sherry Jones brings to life Josephine’s early years in servitude and poverty in America, her rise to fame as a showgirl in her famous banana skirt, her activism against discrimination, and her many loves and losses. From 1920s Paris to 1960s Washington, to her final, triumphant performance, one of the most extraordinary lives of the twentieth century comes to stunning life on the page.
With intimate prose and comprehensive research, Sherry Jones brings this remarkable and compelling public figure into focus for the first time in a joyous celebration of a life lived in technicolor, a powerful woman who continues to inspire today.
Praise for Josephine Baker’s Last Dance
“Sherry Jones takes us on a remarkable journey of heartbreak and empowerment. Josephine Baker’s Last Dance is a bold and beautiful book about a bold and beautiful life. This book left its mark on me.”
– Susan Crandall, author of The Myth of Perpetual Summer
“The mesmerizing chanteuse who shattered race barriers and hearts across the world is brought to vivid, unstoppable life in Josephine Baker’s Last Dance. The champagne swirl of the Jazz Age fuels this amazing, untold story of a defiant woman who fought her way from poverty to become the toast of Europe, infamous for her bawdy act and banana-peel-barely-there skirt. Jones’s Josephine is complicated and human: a courageous artist on a quest for freedom under the haunting legacy of race inequality; she emerges as not only a fantastic icon from the past in her own right, but also as a mirror and example for today. “
– C.W. Gortner, author of Mademoiselle Chanel
“[An] entertaining portrait of a groundbreaking woman. Hand this to fans of Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife (2011), Liza Klaussman’s Villa America (2015), and other tales of Jazz Age artists.”
“The extraordinary story of a unique and unrivaled icon…Jones delivers a satisfying life of one endlessly fascinating person.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“If you loved The Paris Wife, you’re going to love this… Sherry Jones’s new Fall release is an inspiring novel that women everywhere will find to be an important piece of literature in helping to bring about total equality in our current world.”
EXCERPT: Josephine Baker’s Last Dance
Just before she entered the stage door, a drop of rain hit her on the head. No, that was not a bad omen, only a reminder to do her best, to shine like the star she was, or would be. Wilsie came running up—Mr. Sissle was there, but Mr. Blake had yet to arrive. “You’ll knock ’em dead, Tumpy. Just do your dancing and forget the rest.” Josephine didn’t need to be told that. She was ready.
She flexed and stretched her arms as she walked with Wilsie across the stage, past the musicians gathering, trumpets and saxophones and drums and a clarinet, down into the auditorium, where a slender man spoke to a white-haired man at his side. He turned his head very slightly and looked her up and down from the corners of his shrewd, hard eyes. His mouth pursed.
“How old are you?” he’d said before Wilsie had even introduced them. The stage door opened, and a very dark-skinned man with a bald head hurried in, talking about “the damned rain,” scampering down the steps, striding up the aisle, shaking water from his clothes.
“Eubie Blake,” he said, smiling, holding out his hand to her.
“This is Tumpy, Mr. Blake, the one I told you about,” Wilsie said. “She’s here to audition for Clara’s spot in the chorus.”
The man with Mr. Sissle—the stage manager—motioned to her and she followed him up the stage steps. Did she know the songs? Could she dance to “I’m Just Wild about Harry”? Josephine wanted to jump for joy. She pretended to watch as Wilsie showed her the steps, which she already knew as if she’d made them up herself. Josephine stripped down to her dingy leotard, tossed her clothes on a chair, then ran and leaped to the center of the stage. This was it. She bent over to grasp her ankles, stretching her legs, then stood and pulled her arms over her head.
“Ready?” Mr. Sissle barked. The music started, and she began the dance, so simple she could have done it in her sleep. Practicing in the Standard, she’d gotten bored with it and had made up her own steps, throwing in a little Black Bottom, wiggling her ass and kicking her legs twice as high as they wanted to go, taken by the music, played by it, the instruments’ instrument, flapping her hands, step and kick and spin and spin and squat and jump and down in a split, up and jump and kick and spin—oops, the steps, she didn’t need no damn steps, she had better ones—and kick and jump and wiggle and spin. She looked out into the auditorium—a big mistake: Mr. Blake’s mouth was open and Mr. Sissle’s eyes had narrowed to slits. Don’t be nervous, just dance. Only the music remained now, her feet and the stage.
When she’d finished, panting, and pulled on her dress and shoes, Wilsie came running over, her eyes shining. “You made their heads spin, you better believe it,” she whispered, but when they went down into the aisle Josephine heard Mr. Sissle muttering.
“Too young, too dark, too ugly,” he said. The world stopped turning, then, the sun frozen in its arc, every clock still, every breath caught in every throat. Mr. Blake turned to her, smiling as if everything were normal, and congratulated her on “a remarkable dance.”
“I can see that you are well qualified for our chorus, Tumpy,” he said, and on his lips, the name sounded like a little child’s.
“You have real talent, and spark, besides. How did you learn to do that at such a young age? You are—how old?”
“Fifteen,” she said.
Mr. Sissle snorted, and cut Wilsie a look. “Wasting my time,” he said. Mr. Blake looked at her as if she’d just wandered in from the orphanage.
“I’m very sorry, there’s been a mix-up,” he said. “You must be sixteen to dance professionally in New York State.”
“I’ll be sixteen in June,” Josephine said. Her voice sounded plaintive and faraway.
“We need someone now.” Mr. Sissle folded his arms as if she were underage on purpose. Mr. Blake led her toward the stage door, an apologetic Wilsie saying she hadn’t known. Mr. Sissle followed, talking to Mr. Blake about adding some steps to “I’m Just Wild about Harry,” saying they should put in some kicks, that he’d been thinking about it for a while. Uh-huh.
“Come and see us in New York after your birthday, doll,” Mr. Blake said. “You never know when we might have an opening.” He opened the door and let the rain pour in before shutting it again. He looked at Josephine’s thin, optimistic dress. Where was her umbrella? She hung her head. He stepped over to retrieve a black umbrella propped against the wall and handed it to her. She took it without even knowing, her thoughts colliding like too many birds in a cage. She would have to stay in Philadelphia, she had failed—too young, too dark, too ugly—she should have lied about her age, what had gotten into her? Showing off, that was what.
And now Mr. Sissle disliked her, and she would never get into their show; it didn’t matter how many times she went back. As she stepped out into the rain with that big umbrella in her hands unopened and felt the rain pour down her face; she was glad, for now they would think it was water instead of tears, but when she looked back, Wilsie was crying, too, in the open doorway.
Seeing the men watching from a window, she stopped. They wouldn’t forget her; she’d make them remember. She walked slowly, her silk dress dripping, while Mr. Sissle gesticulated with excitement as he stole her ideas—authentic Negro dancing were the last words she’d heard—and Mr. Blake looking as if he wanted to run out there, scoop her up, and carry her back inside.
( Continued… )
© 2018 All rights reserved. Book excerpt reprinted by permission of the author, Sherry Jones. Do not reproduce, copy or use without the author’s written permission. This excerpt is used for promotional purposes only.
Purchase Josephine Baker’s Last Dance in paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats on Simon and Schuster’s website (available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, BooksAMillion, Indiebound, Kobo, and other sites). Learn more about Sherry’s books at www.authorsherryjones.com
About Sherry Jones
Author and journalist Sherry Jones is best known for her international bestseller The Jewel of Medina. She is also the author of The Sword of Medina, Four Sisters, All Queens, The Sharp Hook of Love, and the novella White Heart.
Sherry lives in Spokane, WA, where, like Josephine Baker, she enjoys dancing, singing, eating, advocating for equality, and drinking champagne. Visit her online at AuthorSherryJones.com.
Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/sherry-jones
Q. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR LIFE IN ONLY 8 WORDS?
A. So many books to write, so little time!
Q. WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO OR MAXIM?
A. “Love is a verb.” Also, “You don’t get what you don’t ask for.”
Q. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE PERFECT HAPPINESS?
A. Waking up every morning excited about the day. Going to sleep at night excited about the next day. In between: dancing.
Q. WHAT’S YOUR GREATEST FEAR?
Q. IF YOU COULD BE ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW, WHERE WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO BE?
A. In the presence of those I love.
Q. WITH WHOM IN HISTORY DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
A. With every woman who has recognized that true power comes from within.
Q. WHICH LIVING PERSON DO YOU MOST ADMIRE?
A. Oprah Winfrey, for her magnanimous support of women and authors. The Dalai Lama, for inspiring us all to lead compassionate lives.
Q. WHAT ARE YOUR MOST OVERUSED WORDS OR PHRASES?
A. They differ from book to book! In “Four Sisters, All Queens,” it was “clamor.”
Q. WHAT DO YOU REGRET MOST?
A. I regret the “down” time that I seem to need between books. I am so aware of the limited time that I have to write in this life, and have so many novels I want to write.
Q. IF YOU COULD ACQUIRE ANY TALENT, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
A. I would be a much better pianist. I play classical piano but it’s such a struggle. I love it, and would so love to feel at ease while making beautiful music.
Q. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?
A. Raising my 17-year-old daughter to be the amazing, powerful, kind-hearted young woman that she is. I did this while finishing my college degree, working part-time, and researching and writing my first novel.
Q. WHAT’S YOUR GREATEST FLAW?
Q. WHAT’S YOUR BEST QUALITY?
Q. IF YOU COULD BE ANY PERSON OR THING, WHO OR WHAT WOULD IT BE?
A. I would be myself, warts and all. 🙂
Q. WHAT TRAIT IS MOST NOTICEABLE ABOUT YOU?
A. My laughter. It’s loud and audacious!
Q. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE FICTIONAL HERO?
A. Capitola in Eden Southworth’s classic novel, “The Hidden Hand.” Lily Barth in “House of Mirth.” Morgaine in “The Mists of Avalon.” Anna Karenina. A’isha in my first two books, “The Jewel of Medina” and “The Sword of Medina.” And I have a special place in my heart for each of my four sister-queens!
Q. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE FICTIONAL VILLAIN?
A. Blanche, the “White Queen,” in “Four Sisters, All Queens.” The Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland,” especially as rendered by Helena Bonham Carter. Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice.”
Q. IF YOU COULD MEET ANY HISTORICAL CHARACTER, WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO HIM OR HER?
A. I would love to meet Jesus and ask him what he thinks of universal health care.
Q. WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST PET PEEVE?
A. Selfishness, and a lack of compassion for others. But I have grammatical pet peeves, too, lots of them! “Comprised of.” Using adverbs improperly. “Like” when “such as” or “as if” is correct. Failing to use the subjunctive tense when it is appropriate — as in, “Dance like no one is watching.” Yikes!
Q. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE OCCUPATION, WHEN YOU’RE NOT WRITING?
A. Journalism. I love to challenge authority. Me and my big mouth!!!!
Q. WHAT’S YOUR FANTASY PROFESSION?
A. I’m doing it, right now, writing novels and selling them all over the world.
Q. WHAT 3 PERSONAL QUALITIES ARE MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU?
A. Compassion. Integrity. Humor.