Charles L. Blockson collection on Josephine Baker, 1928-2003

9328

Collection Overview

Title:
Charles L. Blockson collection on Josephine Baker
Dates (Inclusive):
1928-2003
Creator:
Blockson, Charles L.
Creator:
Blockson, Charles L.
Abstract:
This collection consists of programs of Josephine Baker's original shows, photographs, and magazine articles, plus a variety of retrospective exhibition notices and derivative uses of her name and image.
Collection Number:
9328
Size:
1.36 Cubic feet
Location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the  library catalog.
Repository:
Special Collections Library. Pennsylvania State University.
Languages:
English

Biographical / Historical

Charles LeRoy Blockson was born on December 16, 1933, in Norristown, Pennsylvania, to Charles E. Blockson and Annie Parker Blockson. He excelled in football and track at Norristown High School, selecting to attend Penn State, where he received a football scholarship and graduated with a degree in Physical Education in 1956. He served in the Army, 1957-1958, after which he started a janitorial business. As the Civil Rights movement led to wider employment opportunities for African Americans, Blockson became an advisor for human relations and cultural affairs at the Norristown Area High School. However, it was his passion for African American history that prepared him for cultural leadership in the 1970s. He co-founded the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum in Philadelphia in 1976 and published the seminal Black Genealogy with Ron Fry in 1977. He donated his large private collection of African-American history materials to Temple University in 1984, and served as curator of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection. He also served on the Pennsylvania State Historical and Record Advisory Board, and directed the Black History Advisory Board in the 1980s. In 1989, he launched a project to establish sixty-four African American historical markers in Philadelphia. In the 1990s he lectured internationally, and consulted on the establishment of black study programs in many schools and colleges. In 2006 he donated a large collection of published and manuscript materials to Penn State.

Josephine Baker was born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 3, 1906. She began touring with as a comic as early as 1919. In 1925 she traveled to Europe with La Revue Negre, dancing practically nude to the exotic "Danse Sauvage." She remained in France, dancing at the Folies-Bergeres Theater in a famous costume consisting of 16 bananas. She became an overnight sensation and a muse for authors and artists such as Langston Hughes, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Pablo Picasso. Her success coincided with the Arts Deco movement and a renewal of interest in ethnic forms of art. She learned four languages and developed an operatic voice of power and beauty. She took the lead role in a 1934 revival of Jacques Offenbach's opera La Creole and starred in three silent films successful in Europe:  The Tropics (1927),  Zouzou (1934) and  Princesse Tam Tam (1935). Her career thrived in the integrated Paris society; she was one of the most photographed women in the world, and by 1927 she earned more than any entertainer in Europe. However, American critics excoriated her when she visited the United States to star in the Ziegfield Follies in 1936. Returning to Europe, under the cloud of war, she served in the French Underground and raised 12 adopted children, before returning to the United States to tour in the 1950s, performing until the last years of her life.

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Scope and Contents

The Josephine Baker Collection contains a selection of publicity materials, programs, photographs, autographs, and recordings, as well as materials that reflect her cultural impact.

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Arrangement

This collection is arranged in eight series: Program, Retrospective materials, Magazines, Baker's Name and image in advertisements, Music, Photographs, Posters, and Letters.

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Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Copyright Restrictions

Copyright, where it persists, is retained by the creators of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Preferred Citation

[Item Title], Charles L. Collection on Josephine Baker, RBM 9328, Special Collections Library, University Libraries, Pennsylvania State University.

Acquisition Information

Purchased from Charles L. Blockson, 2006.

Processing Information

Processed by Special Collections staff.

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Controlled Access Headings

Personal Name(s)

  • Blockson, Charles L.
  • Blockson, Charles L.

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Collection Inventory

Click associated checkboxes to select items to request. When you have finished, click the Submit Request button.

General note

The Programs series includes original programs published for her shows in France (1934; 1937, and 1959), including “Paris Mes Amours,” for which there is a 45 rpm recording. The 1939 Cotton Club program features stylized nude dancers on the cover and states that Josephine Baker once danced in the Cotton Club chorus, but she is not listed in the program, nor does her photograph appear with other stars. There are also programs for two tours bearing her name that Baker did in the United States, sometime between 1950-1964 and 1973.

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General note

The Retrospective Materials series contains primarily programs and calls for papers for exhibitions and conferences that concerned Josephine Baker, her time, and impact on the wider culture.

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General note

The Magazines series contains 5 publications, 2 French. They feature Josephine Baker during her career—including a review of her act at age 69, a 1937 column in the Philadelphia Citizens’ Weekly concerning the condescension of the white press, and an article in the African American Pulse describing her service during World War II. There is also a later article concerning Baker's cultural influence.

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General note

This series includes items that refer obliquely to Baker, drawing upon her image as a cultural icon. An 1928 German magazine promoting art in advertising includes an elegant ad for a perfume bottle featuring Josephine Baker by name and Egyptian pose.

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General note

The Music series includes illustrated sheet music. The two long play and 45 rpm vinyl disc recordings of “Paris Mes Amours” offer the collection’s only unmediated evidence of her performances.

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General note

The Photographs series includes several photographs of Baker at public events, and iconic images of her reprinted on postcards. It also includes an elegant photographic portrait, and an autographed portrait of her with a fortune teller called, Devin des Stars.

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General note

The Posters series consists of two posters, one advertising her biography, Josephine: The Hungry Heart, by Jean-Claude Baker and Chris Chase, published in 1993 by Random House, and two undated art prints, one that includes stylized African American female chorus dancers and a second of another Folies Bergeres performer, Zizi Jeanmaire.

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General note

The Letters series consists of photocopies of two letters, one from “Josphie” and Jo Bouillon Baker (1959) to Paul Robeson, and another from Louisa Bustill resigning as a teacher in the Philadelphia public schools. (1873).

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127

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