Composers Datebook®

Valerie Coleman and Josephine Baker

Valerie Coleman (b. 1970) – “Thank you Josephine (J’ai deux amours), fr Portraits of JosephineImani WindsKoch KIC-7696

Composer's Datebook - June 3, 2021


June 03, 2021


Long before Beyoncé, there was Josephine Baker. 

Born Freda Josephine McDonald on today’s date in 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri, at age 15 she talked her way into the chorus line at a local vaudeville theater, and from there headed first to New York at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, and then on Paris and the Folies Bergère. where as a singer and dancer she quickly became a sensation.

By that time Freda Josephine McDonald had reinvented herself as Josephine Baker. She was for Parisians the embodiment of the Jazz Age, the "Black Venus," and the hippest American on the planet. 

She became a naturalized French citizen, married a wealthy French industrialist, and raised her 12 adopted children in France.  In one of her most famous songs, she sang, "I have two loves, my country and Paris", and proved as good as her word when during World War II she aided the French resistance. As she refused to perform for segregated audiences in America, she chose to remain in Europe.

The American composer Valerie Coleman attempted to capture something of the many facets of this remarkable woman and her journey from St. Louis to Paris in a wind quintet entitled “Portraits of Josephine.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Valerie Coleman (b. 1970) – “Thank you Josephine (J’ai deux amours),” fr Portraits of Josephine (Imani Winds) Koch KIC-7696

On This Day


  • 1801 - Czech opera composer Franz (František) Škroup, in Osice; One of his songs was eventually used as the Czech national anthem;

  • 1832 - French operetta composer Charles Lecocq, in Paris;


  • 1875 - French composer Georges Bizet, age 36, at Bougival (near Paris);

  • 1899 - Austrian composer Johann Strauss, Jr., age 73, in Vienna;

  • 1939 - Spanish composer and conductor Enrique Fernandez Arbos, in San Sebastian;


  • 1896 - Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 5, in Paris, with the composer as soloist;

  • 1915 - Chadwick: symphonic ballad "Tam O'Shanter" at the Norfolk Festival;

  • 1922 - Stravinsky: opera "Marva," at the Paris Opéra;

  • 1947 - Poulenc: opera "Les Mamelles de Tirésias" (The Breasts of Tiresias) in Paris at the Opéra-Comique;

  • 1964 - Menotti: "Martin's Lie," at Bristol Cathedral in Bath, England;

  • 1979 - Menotti: "La Loca," in San Diego, Calif.;

  • 1988 - Michael Torke: "Copper" for brass quintet and orchestra, at the Midland (Michigan) Festival, with the Empire Brass and the Detroit Symphony conducted by Stephen Stein;

  • 1999 - Tan Dun: "Concerto for Water Percussion and Orchestra (In Memory of Toru Takemitsu)," at Lincoln Center, with percussionist Christopher Lamb and the New York Philharmonic conducted by Kurt Masur.