Free Public Library
Baker's Last Dance
2:30 – 4:00 p.m.
In this illuminating biographical novel, Sherry Jones brings to life Josephine's
early years in servitude and poverty in St. Louis, 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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Author and journalist Sherry Jones
writes historical fiction about incredible women in history. Her books include
The Jewel of Medina; the Sword of Medina; Four Sisters, All Queens; The Sharp
Hook of Love; White Heart; and Josephine Baker's Last Dance. She
lives in Spokane, Washington, where she is
at work on her next novel, a
passionate tale of the famous star-crossed 12th century lovers, Heloise and
Describe Josephine Baker’s childhood in St. Louis, Missouri. How did
Josephine’s determination to succeed as a performer related to her desire to
escape her family and its problems?
While convalescing from an injury caused by an abusive employer, Josephine
experienced a vision of God crowning her in glory. How does this ecstatic
vision sustain her throughout her life, and what does it suggest about her
sense of purpose?
In the finale of La Revue Nègre in Paris,
Baker performed the "Danse Sauvage" wearing a costume consisting of a skirt
made of a string of artificial bananas. How did this performance
alter the course of her career?
How did Josephine’s relationship with “Count” Pepito Abatino impact her
personal and professional life, both positively and negatively?
Josephine Baker’s emergence as a black ingénue in Paris came about at the
height of the flapper movement, a time in history when young women were
repudiating conservative Victorian culture by listening to jazz, smoking,
and embracing their newfound liberation through short skirts, cropped hair,
and cosmetics. How important is the fashion of a milieu to its social
Discuss Josephine’s experience with the rise of Nazism in Europe during the
years leading up to World War II? What connections does she make between the
rise of Hitler and racial and religious hatred with the racial violence she
witnessed as young girl in Missouri?
Why did the powerful New York City theater owner Lee Shubert refuse to give
Josephine star billing in Ziegfield Follies? What might explain the
discrepancy in Josephine Baker’s critical reception in France and in the
What does Baker’s renunciation of her American citizenship in favor of
becoming a French citizen suggest about her loyalty? How does Josephine
Baker’s signature song, “J’ai Deux Amours,” in which she acknowledges her
dual loves for “my country and Paris,” reveal the tensions she experienced
as an American citizen who felt most at home in her adopted country of
How did her Rainbow Tribe of twelve adopted children fulfill her dream of
Discuss the arc of Josephine Baker’s sexuality over the course of the novel.
In what ways was Baker a sexual victim, and how did she use her sexuality as
a means to achieve an end? How did Josephine’s attraction to women and men
contribute to the chameleonic quality of her sexual aura?
Discuss the significance of Josephine Baker’s 1951 show at the Copa City
club in Miami, the first mixed-race nightclub performance in the American
South. How did her insistence on an integrated audience serve as a catalyst
for a wider inclusion?
How did Josephine Baker’s speech at the March on Washington represent the
culmination of her life’s work? How might her circuitous path as an
entertainer be more completely appreciated in light of her lifetime
commitment to racial justice?