On Nov. 30, U.S.-born French dancer, entertainer and civil rights activist Josephine Baker received one of France’s highest honors, as her remains were relocated to the Panthéon mausoleum in Paris. The monument is reserved only for France’s most celebrated and historic figures (81 in all), including philosophers Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, writers Alexandre Dumas and Émile Zola, Nobel laureate Marie Curie and Free France leader Félix Éboué.
Baker is the sixth woman and the first Black woman to be inducted. And amid worldwide celebrations over her inclusion, Alsatian winery Hugel & Fils reminded the world that throughout Baker’s illustrious life, she was an ardent fan.
“Josephine and Alfred Hugel—Uncle Alfred, as my grandfather always described him—met in Paris in the late 1920s,” Hugel & Fils’ Jean Frédéric Hugel told Wine Spectator via email, explaining that Alsatian wines (especially Gewürztraminers) were especially popular in Paris after World War I. “No wonder that Alfred met many cabaret artists, including Josephine Baker, in those years.”
To applaud her memory, Hugel & Fils recently rereleased a photo of Baker at a wine-filled lunch where she, Alfred Hugel and other diners sipped Hugel wines. Baker and Alfred Hugel apparently shared drinks together on several occasions, and she maintained a close relationship to his family’s wines.
Along with the photo, Hugel & Fils revealed a very special entry from its winery guestbook, dated Dec. 30, 1931, the day after the lunch. “[Baker] had promised Alfred she would visit, and finally found an occasion to,” said Hugel. “It was a long-term promise she honored.”
“I have two loves,” Baker wrote in the guestbook (in French, of course), “My Paris and your Alsace wine, Riquewihr Hugel.” With her pen strokes preserved for the ages, the legend signs off “Sincèrement, Josephine Baker.”
For Hugel, Baker remains an emblem of progress and the advancement of universal rights, and of France’s shared story with the U.S. “Her beliefs, empathy and ethics seem to me like she very much could be a woman of the 21st century,” Hugel said. “Yet she shows us how much still needs to be done, and she is a powerful reminder of how fragile these privileges are.” Hugel also feels a more personal connection to Baker’s legacy, and believes that she has left an indelible mark on his family’s culture. “I have always been raised in an environment of respect and tolerance,” he explained. “I probably owe it partly to Josephine Baker.”
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