Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Josephine Baker in Ghent: an unexpected meeting

A week ago we visited the city of Ghent in the north- western part of Belgium, just across the Dutch - Belgian borders. We visited the historical centre with the St. Bavo's Cathedral of course, and made a city tour by feet like real tourists. Near the so-called Gravensteen, the Castle of the Counts, we found a small restaurant, named The House of Eliott. We were surprised by the display window which contained photos and objects from the 1920s. The object that tracked all attention was a doll with a banana costume. Banana-clad Josephine Baker dolls were sold by the thousands in the streets and the Bois de Boulogne during the 1920s in Paris. Most of the photo's an objects were dedicated to Josephine Baker.

Josephine Baker, born in St. Louis Missouri (USA) June 1906, passed away April 1975 after a turbulent life. She was a dancer and entertainer, night club star and after the Second World War she became known for her 12 adopted children of various nationalities. But above all - she was the symbol for the 1920s Roaring Twenties in Paris ....For me, Josephine Baker, was one of the close friends of Oscar Alemán, who played in her revue orchestra, The Baker Boys during the 1930s in Paris.
Josephine Baker, who needed early 1930s a guitar player for her band had heard Oscar Aleman playing in Les Loups, a Hawaiian guitar duo with Gaston Bueno Lobo and Oscar Alemán, both Argentine born musicians, who formed a duo which became part of the Harry Fleming revue that travelled through Europe. Oscar Alemán became part of the Baker Boys and went on tour across Europe during the 1930s. When famous band leaders, like Duke Ellington wanted to have Oscar in their bands, Josephine must have answered: Where do I find a guy that sings in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian; that can dance, is black and touch guitar, cavaquinho, pandeiro, bass, drums and that besides: he is a good person and now you want to take it from me? It is said that Josephine liked Oscar, because she could speak Spanish to him, and, although Oscar couldn't read any music, he even became, late 1930s, the leader of the Baker's Boys.

It is strange, that in most biographies about Josephine Baker's life ( and there are a lot of publication about her), there is but few information about Oscar Aleman. Naked at the Feast by Lynn Haney has no entry at all ..... and in The Josephine Baker Story by Ean Wood it has only one entry of 5 lines. When I once asked Ean Wood why he had only one entry he said; Well that's all I have ... mind you're the expert !!
Oscar Aleman in Josephine Baker's revue. Oscar is the man next to Josephine with the guitar.
Isn't it great to walk along the historical inner city of Ghent, searching for interesting shops with secondhand books or records ( I didn't find one last week !!) and find this very nice restaurant? On Wednesday the restaurant was closed, but the design inside looks great, according to its informative website. And the food must be great too if you have such a good taste in music - I suppose !!
Hans Koert -

This contribution is also posted at the Keep Swinging blog as Josephine Baker in Ghent: an unexpected meeting.

Keep swinging

Hans Koert


Blogger Hot Club de Boedo said...

Amigo Hans, es un renovado placer visitar tu blog siempre tan ameno y bien documentado, también queriamos hacerte saber que con el auspicio Hot Club de Boedo los jueves a las 20:30 emite "El momento de Oscar Alemán", microprograma semanal con música, historias y anécdotas de Oscar, en el programa "Los Grandes del Jazz" por AM 1090 Nuestras Raíces.Un abrazo de Waldo y los muchachos del Hot Club de Boedo.

11:59 PM  

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