A Legend is Born: Tribute to Josephine Baker

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4iTkoLrY24]

Black Ensemble Theater Presents

Black Pearl:


Written and Directed By:

Daryl D. Brooks

Now Playing

May 6 – June 25, 2017

Becoming a legend has its benefits. But, in a world where people view you as less than human, being born is a challenge within itself and being a legend is inconceivable. But… legends are created from the thoughts of those who can overcome adversities and still believe that dreams can come true. In spite of unthinkable obstacles, she was born to be legendary. 

Brenda and Rick McCain

So, who was the little girl that grew up to become the pioneer known as Tumpie, Black Venus and The Black Pearl, which is the featured name used by The Black Ensemble Theater to depict this Creole goddess? Who was this iconic figure who lived with the hatred of racism and segregation within her own country, and despite being banned from performing in the United States, became a star by doing things her way?

Her name was Freda Josephine McDonald, but she never liked the name Freda; so she was known as Josephine Baker, the first Black international superstar. Freda was born into a world of poverty to a washerwoman named Carrie McDonald and vaudeville drummer Eddie Carson on June 3, 1906 in St. Louis, Mo. Josephine wanted more than what life had to offer the Negro, so she left home at an early age to pursue her dreams of becoming a star.

But before finding success on Broadway and becoming one of Europe’s most popular and highest-paid performers in the 1920’s, she learned to dance on the streets in St. Louis to make money so that she could eat and survive. Famous for barely-there dresses and no-holds-barred dance routines, her exotic beauty took Europe by storm and catapulted her career to becoming a legend around the world.

Let’s Play is proud to introduce you to a play that we “highly recommend” called “Black Pearl: A Tribute to Josephine Baker.” This phenomenal performance allowed us to take a glimpse into the life of an extraordinary woman, whose professional career of dancing and singing entertained and thrilled the world for 50 years.

Director Daryl D. Brooks eloquently answers the questions to “Who is Josephine Baker?” by taking us on an unforgettable voyage from St. Louis, to New York, to Paris with two impressive actresses portraying Younger Josephine (Aerial “Mon’ Aeerie” Williams) and the older, wiser Josephine (Joan Ruffin). Daryl ingeniously crafted the older Josephine Baker to chronicle her life story as a dancer, singer, wife, mother and civil rights activist.

He shared with us her compelling backstory with an in depth look at the entertainer who dreamed of dancing as a little girl and how her dreams were deferred as she sought to escape reality for better living conditions by marrying too young.

We were given a delightful yet tragic view of the path of how Josephine tried to make it in a world that provided her with disappointments to how she became famous and finally earning the respect she well deserved across the seas in Paris, France. We get a chance to gaze back into history and see Josephine Baker’s infamous 16 piece banana skirt that launched her into the stratosphere of success to how she almost died working with the French Resistance during World War II and fighting for civil rights in the United States during the 1950’s and the 1960’s.

Admirers bestowed a plethora of gifts, including diamonds and cars, and she received approximately 1,500 marriage proposals. She became an advocate of racial harmony by adopting 12 children, calling them “The Rainbow Tribe!” She maintained energetic performances and a celebrity status until her death in 1975. Unfortunately, racism prevented her talents from being wholly accepted in the United States until 1973.

Lastly we witnessed how this little girl born into a world full of segregation devoted the rest of her life with the idea that people of all nationalities could live peacefully together.

And the legend was born.

Aerial Williams and Joan Ruffin as past and present Josephine Baker were astonishing and their duo singing performance will surely cause a tear to fall from your eyes. Notable understudy of the older Josephine Baker was the distinguished director, producer, actress, educator, singer, playwright, Founder & CEO of The Black Ensemble Theater, Jackie Taylor. Seeing any performance of her as Josephine Baker would be a treat.

Again, we highly recommend “Black Pearl: A Tribute to Josephine Baker.”

The cast includes:

Joan Ruffin (Older Josephine)

Aerial Williams (Younger Josephine)

Rhonda Preston (Mother) 

The ensemble also includes: Dennis Dent, Lemond Hayes, Kelly Maryanski, Linnea Norwood, Rhonda Preston, William Rowland, Henri Slater, Kyle Smith, Jake Stempel, and Vincent Jordan.    

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