Hannibal Free Public Library

Josephine Baker's Last Dance


Sherry Jones

August 16, 2021

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.




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 Abelard. 




  1. 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?


  1. 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?


  1. 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?


  1. How did Josephine’s relationship with “Count” Pepito Abatino impact her personal and professional life, both positively and negatively?


  1. 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 history?


  1. 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?


  1. 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 United States?


  1. 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 France?


  1. How did her Rainbow Tribe of twelve adopted children fulfill her dream of motherhood?


  1. 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?


  1. 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?


  1. 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?





Adapted from: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Josephine-Bakers-Last-Dance/Sherry-Jones/9781501102448  and https://authorsherryjones.com/bio/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephine_Baker