JOSEPHINE BAKER’S LAST DANCE
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.
Why did you write JOSEPHINE BAKER’S LAST DANCE? Working as a journalist for 30-plus years, I made little money–but I gained something more valuable: a conviction that I was making a difference in my community and in the wider world.
During my decades as a newspaper reporter and then as a correspondent for a national news agency, I discovered the power of the written word to tear down, uplift, and transform. So it makes perfect sense that, when I turned to fiction, I would write books about women who made their mark on the world.
From the Prophet Muhammad’s favorite wife to four sisters who became European queens in the 13th century, my protagonists are movers and shakers. Josephine Baker may be the most important of them all because of all she did for her “people”–the African-American community.
Born in 1906 and raised in the St. Louis slums, she knew racism first-hand, abused by the white woman in whose home she worked at age 7; traumatized by the East St. Louis Race Riots in 1917, when white workers and their families set fire to black families’ homes and shot and lynched those who tried to escape; confronted by men in white hoods and “whites only” signs in the American South as a girl of 13 touring on the black vaudeville circuit, and much more.
In Paris at age 19, she discovered a different world, one in which black people and white ate together, sat in theaters and on streetcars and buses together, danced onstage together, and even married one another. She must have thought she’d died and gone to heaven.
But hatred wasn’t so easy to escape. It followed her: to Paris, where white Americans confronted her and even had her removed from the hotel where she was lodging; to Germany, where Hitler’s Brownshirts threatened her; and all around the world, as she performed her famous “banana dance” in spite of protesters’ calling her a “black demon”—and worse.
By the time the Nazis invaded Paris in 1940, Josephine Baker was already working as a spy for the nascent Resistance movement, seducing generals and diplomats to confide in her, then carrying the information across borders.
Empowered by these experiences, she embarked on her third U.S. tour in 1951 with another goal in mind: to put an end to racial segregation. She publicly declared that she would perform in no nightclubs or theaters and patronize no businesses that segregated their clientele.
As a result, many venues allowed black people through their doors for the first time—and Ms. Baker became the target of an FBI investigation into her alleged ties with the Communist Party. Her outspokenness resulted in many canceled gigs and the loss of a movie deal, and ultimately the loss of her castle in southern France.
She never gave up or expressed any regrets about her activism, though. Indeed, she persisted. In 1963, she was invited to Washington, D.C., to speak at the March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—the only woman to speak.
I wrote JOSEPHINE BAKER’S LAST DANCE to remind the world that the woman in the banana skirt was so much more than that. Josephine Baker was a force of nature and a force for change, and gave everything she had in effort to make a difference for African-Americans.
By telling her story as well as the stories of all my fictional heroines, I hope to make a difference, too. This is why I exist, and why I write.
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What do you hope readers will learn/discover from reading your book?
I hope JOSEPHINE BAKER’S LAST DANCE will contribute to the national and global conversation about racism: past, present, and future. I know that I learned many shocking things as I researched the book. But also, on a purely personal level, I hope readers will be inspired by Josephine Baker’s story and her example of what one person can do to make a positive difference in the world. She was so incredibly courageous, and her life story sets a bold and daring example for us all.
Where can visitors find you online?
I’ve recently joined Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/sherry-jones
I love Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1219600.Sherry_Jones
And, of course, there’s my author website: http://www.authorsherryjones.com
Come to Facebook for the sordid details of my personal life: http://www.facebook.com/authorsherryjones.
On Twitter, you’ll learn about my liberal, feminist political views: http://www.twitter.com/sherryjones
On Instagram, you’ll see pictures from my life and my reading life: http://www.instagram.com/authorsherryjones
Also on Instagram, I have a site that’s all things Josephine Baker: http://www.instagram.com/josephinebakerslastdance