Composers Datebook®

Valerie Coleman and Josephine Baker

Composers Datebook - June 3, 2024


Long before Beyoncé, there was Josephine Baker. 

She was born Freda Josephine McDonald on today’s date in 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri. At 15, she talked her way into the chorus line at a local vaudeville theater; 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.

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 her wind quintet, Portraits of Josephine.

Music Played in Today's Program

Valerie Coleman (b. 1970): Thank You Josephine (J’ai Deux Amours), from 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, 36, at Bougival (near Paris)

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

  • 1939 - Spanish composer and conductor Enrique Fernandez Arbos, 76, 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 Mavra, 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, California

  • 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

Love the music?

Donate by phone

Show your support by making a gift to YourClassical.

Each day, we’re here for you with thoughtful streams that set the tone for your day – not to mention the stories and programs that inspire you to new discovery and help you explore the music you love.

YourClassical is available for free, because we are listener-supported public media. Take a moment to make your gift today.

More Ways to Give

Your Donation


Latest Composers Datebook® Episodes


Latest Composers Datebook® Episodes


About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®