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Son to recall `forgotten years' of Josephine Baker Monday night at the World Erotic Art Museum

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

baker4_trop_fri_mh Jean-Claude Baker, an adopted son of musical superstar Josephine Baker, refers to his mother as the 20th century's ``first black sex symbol.''

Monday night, he'll speak about Baker's ``forgotten years'' at the World Erotic Art Museum on South Beach.

``I'm very happy to speak at that museum of sex, or whatever you call it,'' says Jean-Claude, now 66 and owner of Chez Josephine bistro in New York City's theater district, ``where the legend of Josephine still lives.''

Baker died suddenly at age 68 in 1975, days after a celebrated stage comeback in Paris. Glowing newspaper reviews from that final performance were scattered about the bed where she died.

Most who remember Baker think of her as a glamorous singing star who performed at the Folies-Berge`re in 1926 wearing nothing but strategically placed bananas.

Baker broke ground for black entertainers.

3003939``In 1951, she performed in South Beach, and she demanded that black patrons be allowed to come into the show,'' Jean-Claude says.

Protesters threatened to bomb the nightclub where Baker and singer Sophie Tucker were appearing. Said Tucker: ``Very good, they will have to blow me up too,'' according to Jean-Claude.

Years later, Baker stood with Martin Luther King Jr. ``We were all inspired by your presence at the March on Washington,'' King wrote to Baker on Nov. 5, 1963.

Baker reinvented herself time and again the way Madonna would 70 years later. When she thought of herself as too old to be a sex symbol, she changed her image to that of mother.

``She started the Rainbow Tribe of children of different races, colors and religion,'' said Jean-Claude, born in Dijon, France, and one of her 12 adopted children.

``Way before Angelina Jolie -- and I regret that Brad is not my daddy. You can quote me,'' says Jean-Claude, a gay man who researched his mother's life and in 1993 co-wrote a biography of her, Josephine: The Hungry Heart.

Baker -- who was married to four different men and had affairs with many others -- actually was a lesbian, ``looking for tenderness'' that only another woman could show her, Jean-Claude says.

Jean-Claude Baker will speak 7 p.m. Monday at the World Erotic Art Museum, 1205 Washington Ave. Admission is $20, no one under 18 allowed. For more information, call 305-532-9336 or visit www.weam.com.

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Actually, Jean-Claude Baker is not one of the original Rainbow Tribe children that Josephine Baker adopted. This man met Josephine when he was young and waited on her in a Paris Hotel. She befriended him but she never adopted him. He took her last name, wrote a book about her, named a restaurant after her and has made a a lot of money out of his association with Ms. Baker. I am all for keeping the name of this great woman alive - but Jean-Claude should be more upfront about his relation to the legend.

OJ, here is a response I received today from Jean-Claude Baker:

Just to clarify, I never said that I was officially adopted by Josephine Baker, my second mother.

As I state in the introduction to my critically-acclaimed biography "Josephine: The Hungry Heart," co-written with Chris Chase:

"Who am I to think I have to write a book on Josephine Baker when I'm not even her legal son? She had thousands of lovers; I've never been her lover, I've never even been her fan. I was a fan of Edith Piaf, not of Josephine Baker..."

I first met her in 1957 as a 14-year-old bellhop at the Hotel Scribe. When I told her I had been abandoned by my father in a hotel room, she became very enraged and said, "You have no father, my little one. From today on, you will have two mothers."

As my book very well documented, in the last seven years of her life, I became part of her "Rainbow Tribe" of 10 boys and two girls, and she always introduced me as "The thirteenth of my twelve adopted children, Jean-Claude is the oldest."

I am the only one of the children who traveled and performed with her around the world as the ambassador of the Rainbow Tribe, and she always identified me as Jean-Claude Baker, as did my French passport at the time. I am now an American citizen.

In 1986, I opened Chez Josephine restaurant, which has become a landmark destination in New York's Theater District. My brother Jarry Bouillon-Baker, the third officially adopted member of the Rainbow Tribe, has been working with me for the past 15 years.

In my sold-out lecture at the World Erotic Art Museum on Monday, I made it quite clear that I had never been officially adopted.

Respectfully,
Jean-Claude Baker

I admire what you have been doing to keep Ms. Baker's name alive. I don't think you lied about your relation-ship, if people want to get upset let them. YOU explained your real relationship with her if someone wants to twist it. Forget them, people in this world are always turning some loving attempts to remember someone fabulous as Josephine, into something bad they can go take a jump. You know where. Jean-Claude, I can tell you loved and admired her as a friend, a mother-figure, and unforgettable lady of incredible heart and character. The number of husbands or lover doesn't matter. Or being gay, if she was is fine too. She was interesting and FABULOUS. I send you a BIG HUG. Bye. STay strong and give the rest of the kids, my best!!Lee

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