Joséphine Baker’s little pantheon is hiding in the Dordogne

The American singer raised her twelve children and armed herself for the Resistance at the Château des Milandes, a place of all her hopes transformed into a place of memory.

In this Périgord castle, Joséphine Baker hid weapons for the Resistance, received the Legion of Honor and raised a “rainbow tribeOf twelve adopted children all over the world. “This is where my mother spent the longest part of her life, almost 30 years», Explains to AFP Brian Bouillon-Baker in front of this castle of the end of XVe century, overlooking the Dordogne, in Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. More than in the United States, which saw him born, than in Paris, his “love»Forever, and Monaco, where Princess Grace welcomed him.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the former star of the Roaring Twenties gave Milandes a strange family, twelve children of different religions and cultures adopted very young with her fourth and last husband, the conductor Jo Bouillon. , married in the chapel of the castle in 1947. “She raised them with the idea that there is only one race, the human race», In line with the fight of her life against racism, nourished by her childhood as a black American, sums up the owner of the premises, Angélique de Labarre, who transformed the large building of blond stones and flat tiles into a Joséphine Baker museum.

«Mom succeeded in federating these 12 small entities which were not intended to live together in a united family, despite our differences.“, Underlines the elder of the Akio Bouillon tribe, 70 years old, adopted in Japan in 1954. With Brian, 65 years old, adopted in Algeria, they describe a mother”protective», «caring and firm». «She didn’t want us to climb magnolias, chase peacocks or play with bows and arrowsBrian breathes, pointing to the long branches of the majestic trees. “Even the bike was dangerous».

A “mother henWho, during the Second World War, had the guts to cross the desert in a jeep with the Free French Forces, between Morocco and Libya, or to pass secret messages to the Allied counter-espionage. A “Italian mammaBrian remembers as he wanders through the castle kitchen. “Every Sunday evening, she prepared a large pot of spaghetti bolognese. It was the only day she was cooking».

American-born dancer Joséphine Baker and her husband Jo Bouillon walk with their adopted children in front of their castle in Milandes, Dordogne. UPI / AFP

«Bears, monkeys»

In this corner of Périgord, the rainbow tribe was “a curiosity», Says Brian, author of Josephine Baker the universal (Editions du Rocher). “A large, multi-ethnic family living in a castle, we quickly realized that it was special. But at school, we melted into the crowd», assure Akio. «When their mother returned from traveling, the children had gadgets, gifts, things that we weren’t used to seeing here.», Remembers the current mayor of Castelnaud Daniel Dejean, who frequented the benches of the communal with some small Bouillon-Baker. The tribe was not the only local attraction because Joséphine and Jo, before their separation, hatched around the castle a kind of leisure complex before its time.

A swimming pool (in J, like Joséphine and Jo), a hotel, a restaurant, a mini-golf, a pet store, a farm of 300 hectares, lists Ms. de Labarre. Up to 120 people worked there, she said. “Thanks to her, in this village of 150 inhabitants, there was a garden with bears, monkeys, plants … a performance hall that still exists and has seen Bécaud, Brialy … and even a station- service!“Remembers Germinal Peiro, president of the Departmental Council from the neighboring village, Beynac.

«After the war, Joséphine helped to make Périgord known for tourism, like Lascaux. We came from all over France to see her“, Continues Mr. Peiro, referring to a woman who”gave off something extraordinary». «Kids, we were very impressed when we saw her. He was a world star».

But the “village of the worldWanted by this extraordinary woman did not live. “Some have abused her, cheated on the bills … Everyone here knows that. She was an artist, not a manager», Assures Germinal Peiro. According to Mme de Labarre, she paid the water and electricity bills for almost the entire village, without knowing it.

In 1964, Brigitte Bardot launched a televised call and signed a big check that saved the Milandes. But four years later, the buildings were auctioned off and the artist expelled, at age 62. “The worst moment of his lifeAccording to Brian. Grace of Monaco will offer him hospitality. “She may have seen too big», Slips Angélique de Labarre, now keeper of memories.


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