On the snowy morning of Saturday, February 27, 2010, David Regis and Gwenaelle Lardenois, who were visiting New York City from Paris, France, were treated to a unique walk through the life of the famous Josephine Baker, who took Paris by storm in the 1920s.
This special Greeter for a Day event was hosted by Josephine’s son, Jean-Claude Baker, owner of Chez Josephine, a restaurant in the Theatre District that celebrates the life of his mother, and the author of Josephine Baker: The Hungry Heart. Greeter Chantal Lawrence and Paul Margolis, a volunteer photographer, accompanied them.
Mr. Baker met his visitors in front of 232 W.138th Street. The basement of the brownstone was the location where Josephine Baker would rehearse her role in “La Revue Negre,” the show in which she made her debut in Paris in 1925. Mr. Baker spoke of the history of Harlem and that although many African-Americans were victims of discrimination and prejudice in Harlem they were able to blossom financially and artistically. It was Josephine’s work during the Harlem Renaissance that led to her success in France. The visitors stopped by the Apollo Theatre and the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building, where, they were surprised to learn, former President Bill Clinton has his office.
Jean-Claude invited everyone for lunch at his restaurant, Chez Josephine, and they were joined by Board Member Barbara Tomanelli. Our visitors commented on the beautifully decorated restaurant, and enjoyed learning about its history and Jean-Claude’s life as a restaurant owner. What Jean-Claude loves most about his work is having the chance to meet new people and making them feel like they are home.
After lunch, everyone walked over to the Winter Garden and the Palace Theatres in Times Square where Josephine enjoyed successful theatre runs in the 1920’s and 1970’s.
At the end of the Greeter for a Day, the visitors chatted over coffee and asked Jean-Claude what he loved about being a greeter. He replied “I love it and I am proud to show the New York I love!” As for David and Gwenaelle, they were very impressed with their Big Apple Greeter experience. David commented that Big Apple Greeter is “a wonderful experience to meet real New Yorkers from different backgrounds” and to “see New York as a New Yorker and not as a tourist.”
Story by Chantal Lawrence