|Black Ghosts of Paris, Part 2|
|Written by Julia Browne|
Though you’d hardly guess today, Lower Montmartre throbbed in the 1920s and 30s as the hotspot for jazz (we actually passed Woody Allen’s film set shooting part of Midnight in Paris here). Still standing witness to that riotous, decadent era is the Casino de Paris concert hall at the foot of Rue de Clichy. Here, the Jazz Kings (including Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson) jazzed up the nights for six years in the upstairs room, providing steady and well-paid employment to the dozens of expat musicians. Today you can have lunch or dinner in that same upstairs room, lit by a stained glass window and overlooking the red velvet theatre and stage where Josephine Baker performed in 1930.
The other longstanding landmark up here is the Moulin Rouge. In its shadow stretches the Rue Fontaine, heart of the 1920s Black Paris community. Local residents today can’t believe that Josephine Baker’s Chez Josephine restaurant operated near the top of their street. At the bottom, at Rue Pigalle, entertainer Bricktop held court in her own nightclub. There's nothing left there now but those locals are flattered by neighborhood memories immortalized by club regular F. Scott Fitzgerald, the music of Cole Porter (he wrote 'Miss Otis Regrets' for Bricktop), and knowing that young Stephane Grapelli and Django Reinhardt created the first French jazz band after hanging out at Bricktop’s.
The second wave of jazz bloomed in the St.Germain-des-Pres/Latin Quarter after WWII. Cozy cellar jazz clubs sprung up like poppies and they were filled with young French jitterbugging in American-style clothes. Again, few those early places still exist. La Caveau de la Huchette on rue de la Huchette is one of them, so is Les Trois Mailletz on Rue Galande. In the 6th, Hotel Louisiane on Rue de Seine, between the roasting chicken and fresh produce stands of the Buci market, was home to Bebop greats Miles Davis and Bud Powell.
On the boulevard St. Germain, the famous literary cafes, Le Café Flore, Les Deux Magots and across the street Le Brasserie Lipp were all fav spots for writers Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Chester Himes, all of whom lived within close walking distance.
The 5th and 6th districts are thick with ghosts of African-American writers, artists, musicians and intellectuals. But there is one place bearing a visual sign: at 14 rue Monsieur Le Prince, which runs behind the Sorbonne Nouvelle, stands the first plaque erected for an African American. Richard Wright lived there with his family from 1948-1959.
These are just a few of the stories to be told of places you might pass on your day to day in Paris.
British-born, Canadian-raised Julia Browne has been a lifelong francophile, and moved to Paris in 1990. After studying under the late Sorbonne Professor Michel Fabre, in 1994 Julia created a series of walking tours focussing on Black history in Paris. The tours blend together her love of history, arts and education. Since returning to Canada, Julia has become an award-winning broadcaster, freelance writer and a Certified Agent for France Tourism. With her team of guides, she continues to expand Walking The Spirit Tours by designing fun and enlightening itineraries around France and through Black heritage sites around the world.
Click here to read part 1 of Black Ghosts of Paris!
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Mark Anthony: ...
BRILLIANT. PLEASE DO MORE OF THIS. AS A BLACK MAN FROM THE STATES I LOVE LEARNING ABOUT OUR CULTURE HERE. BRAVO.
February 29, 2012
Thank you Julia for these immensely interesting articles. As an African American I have always appreciated the treatment that our artists received in Paris. I would love to see a movie made on that history.
March 13, 2012
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