Published on March 29, 2022Updated on June 19, 2023
In 1974, Josephine Baker inaugurated the brand-new Salle des Etoiles at Monte-Carlo Sporting d’Été. She had arrived in Monaco with her family two years earlier at the invitation of Princess Grace, initially residing at the Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo. In both 1969 and 1974, she provided the entertainment at the Monaco Red Cross Gala: an example of just how strong the incredible artist’s relationship with Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer really was. Discover an emotional interview with one of her children, Jeannot Bouillon.
How did you hear that your mother, Josephine Baker, is going to entombed in the Pantheon?
Jeannot Bouillon : On Facebook. There was a petition for her to be buried in the Pantheon. Line Renaud, who was a close friend of my mother, supported it. It was my mother who taught Line Renaud to walk down the stairs. It was mainly my brother, Brian Bouillon-Baker, who was in charge. He’s the one who called me to tell me.
Do you remember coming to Monaco?
J.B : Very well! We arrived in 1969, I was 15 years old. We first lived at Hôtel Hermitage, invited by Princess Grace. Everyone had their own room. We stayed for one month, then we went to Spain, then we came back.
Did you go to school?
J.B : I didn’t, but my sisters went to the Saint-Maur school.
What was Josephine Baker like as a mother?
J.B : Strict. About everything. Discipline was key. We were not allowed to put our elbows on the table, not to speak until spoken to.
Did she have favourites?
J.B : No... actually, the girls of course!
Did you go to see her shows?
J.B : I would have liked that, but she didn’t want us to, she said that mothers are not stars of the stage. One night I tried, but she had given her orders, the security guards caught me.
What are your memories of Princess Grace?
J.B : She and my mother were very, very good friends. The first time they met, they were in the same restaurant and the waiters were serving my mother poorly, because she was black. The princess saw this, she was furious, she made a scene. You know, when Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech, my mother was there. In Monaco, the Princess told her: “Josephine, if you have a problem, whatever it is, call me, wherever I am, I will come straight away.” One day, we were invited to Roc-Agel, but we didn’t have our swimsuits, so we went in the pool in our underwear. The Princess’s children wanted to do the same, but she told them: “Josephine Baker’s children have every right to, but you don’t!”
How did you become Josephine Baker’s son?
J.B : During a tour of Japan, she visited an orphanage in Tokyo. She saw me all alone in the corner and asked: “Why is this child all alone? Can I take him with me?” There you have it.
You and your brothers and sisters wished that her remains stay in Monaco?
J.B : Yes, she stays here. We received a letter saying that she should leave, but we said no. She is buried here with my aunt, my uncle, and also my grandniece, who was the Princess’s goddaughter. An empty coffin will enter in the Pantheon. What matters is the symbol, the recognition.
Did you work at Société des Bains de Mer?
J.B : Yes, for 36 years! I started in the gardens in 1977, and I left in 2013. It was the Prince Louis de Polignac, who was very nice, who hired me.