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Baker takes place in French history

President lauds 1st U.S.-born citizen inducted in Pantheon by The Associated Press | December 1, 2021 at 3:54 a.m.
The coffin with soils from the U.S., France and Monaco is carried towards the Pantheon monument in Paris, France, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, where Josephine Baker is to symbolically be inducted, becoming the first Black woman to receive France's highest honor. Her body will stay in Monaco at the request of her family. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

PARIS -- Josephine Baker -- the U.S.-born entertainer, anti-Nazi spy and civil-rights activist -- was inducted into France's Pantheon on Tuesday, becoming the first Black woman to receive the nation's highest honor.

Baker's voice resonated through the streets of Paris' famed Left Bank as recordings from her extraordinary career kicked off an elaborate ceremony at the domed Pantheon monument. Baker joined other French luminaries honored at the site, including philosopher Voltaire, scientist Marie Curie and writer Victor Hugo.

Air force officers carried her cenotaph along a red carpet that stretched for four blocks of cobblestoned streets from the Luxembourg Gardens to the Pantheon. Baker's military medals lay atop the cenotaph, which was draped in the French tricolor flag and contained soils from her birthplace in Missouri, from France and from her final resting place in Monaco. Her body remains in Monaco at the request of her family.

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French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to "a war hero, fighter, dancer, singer; a Black woman defending Black people, but first of all, a woman defending humankind. American and French. Josephine Baker fought so many battles with lightness, freedom, joy."

"Josephine Baker, you are entering into the Pantheon because, born American, there is no greater French [woman] than you," he said.

Baker is also the first American-born citizen and the first performer to be immortalized in this fashion.

She is praised not only for her world-renowned artistic career but also for her active role in the French Resistance during World War II, her actions as a civil-rights activist and her humanist values, which she displayed through the adoption of 12 children from around the world. Nine of them attended Tuesday's ceremony among the 2,000 guests.

"Mum would have been very happy," Akio Bouillon, one of Baker's sons, said after the ceremony. "Mum would not have accepted to enter into the Pantheon if that was not as the symbol of all the forgotten people of history, the minorities."

Bouillon added that what moved him the most were the people who gathered along the street to watch.

"They were her public, people who really loved her," he said.

The ceremony began with Baker's song "Me revoila Paris" ("Paris, I'm Back"). The French army choir sang the French Resistance song, prompting strong applause. Her signature song, "J'ai deux amours" ("Two Loves"), was then played by an orchestra accompanying Baker's voice on the plaza.

During a light show displayed on the monument, Baker could be heard saying, "I think I am a person who has been adopted by France. It especially developed my humanist values, and that's the most important thing in my life."

Information for this article was contributed by Jamey Keaten, Arno Pedram and Bishr Eltouni of The Associated Press.

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