Before Angelina, Madonna, and their Adopted Children, there was Josephine and the Rainbow Tribe

In part two of our series about the life of Josephine Baker on 50 SHADES OF BLACK, we look at Baker through the eyes of the children that she brought into her family.  Deemed The Rainbow Tribe, this group of intentionally diverse children was yet another way that Josephine Baker proved that she would not live a life defined by convention, barriers, or the established rules of the day.

She made the declaration that she wanted to use her wealth and fame to do something to better humanity and fight against racism.  A virtual royal in France, she owned a estate with dozens of bedrooms and a staff of over a hundred.  When touring in the United States however she still had to enter many of her performance halls through a rear entrance.  In a speech in 1954 she stated that she wanted to adopt a little boy from each continent.  She traveled to Japan to adopt her first child, a boy named Akio who had been orphaned for a year and a half.

Sometimes Bouillon flips through magazines and sees the photos of today's rainbow tribes, of Madonna with her children from Malawi, of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, traveling around the world with their six small children and their nannies, in the glare of the media spotlight. But he doesn't feel taken aback by the images. In fact, they make him feel proud.

"It's great," he says. "These stars are following in my mother's footsteps." Of course, he adds, the paparazzi are a problem, as is their constant quest for pictures of the children. But when Jolie adopts a baby from the Third World, says Bouillon, there is also a higher principle at work. "When these children grow up, they'll understand."

Bouillon feels that his adoptive mother made a great and enduring contribution, and that our impression of Josephine Baker should not be clouded by her weaknesses. She was, as he says, a child of her time.

In a 2009 article by Merlind Theile titled Josephine Baker's Rainbow Tribe, she talks with Akio about growing up with Josephine.  In moments of candor, deep reflection, sympathy, gratitude, and insight Akio offers a glimpse into the life of Josephine Baker that not many others could.  The article by Theile delves into issues surrounding the failing relationship with Baker's third husband Jo Bouillon who Akio bears the name of.  It also explores some of Baker's motivation and her troubled relationship with her oldest adopted son, Jari.

-Carlton Mackey

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Posted on August 22, 2012 and filed under blog.