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Photo of entertainer Josephine Baker is one to appreciate at the Smithsonian

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Aaron Bryant curates photography for the Smithsonian. He recently spoke with NPR about some of his favorite Black photographic subjects. An early image of performer Josephine Baker from the 1920s is high on his list.

(SOUNDBITE OF DICK HYMAN'S "CHARLESTON")

AARON BRYANT: But what we could see is a young Josephine Baker on stage with this art deco backdrop of a cityscape behind her, and she's doing the Charleston.

(SOUNDBITE OF DICK HYMAN'S "CHARLESTON")

BRYANT: You know, it's really amazing to think that talking about this idea of resilience and fearlessness and willingness to take risk - you have Josephine Baker, who just up and left and moved to Paris, France. I mean, you know, who does that? How easy would that be for us to do today? If you think about it, how easy would it be for you to do to just pack up everything or leave everything behind and go start a new life in a completely different country? And, you know, I even wonder, does she even speak French when she made the decision to leave?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIS-MOI JOSEPHINE")

JOSEPHINE BAKER: (Singing in French).

BRYANT: You know, I'm thinking this was happening during the Jazz Age. And, of course, France was instrumental in - no pun intended - in making - you know, bringing jazz to a global stage. Of course, it was African Americans in the military, in fact, who popularized jazz in France. And so by this time, you know, we're looking just several years after the end of World War I. And we have someone like Josephine Baker, who's making a name for herself. You know, it raises questions for me about, who is this woman? What was happening in France at the time, particularly in the context of race and gender? And what was happening in the U.S., you know, her home? And what was her home life like here that she was willing to leave it behind?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIS-MOI JOSEPHINE")

BAKER: (Singing in French).

MARTINEZ: Aaron Bryant is curator of visual culture at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, talking about Josephine Baker.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIS-MOI JOSEPHINE")

BAKER: (Singing in French). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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