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Double Issue: 6.2-6.2: Fall 2007/Spring 2008
Guest Edited by Kaiama L. Glover
Josephine Baker: A Century in the Spotlight

Rediscovering Aïcha, Lucy and D'al-Al, Colored French Stage Artists

Michel Fabre

Of all the "colored" chorus girls to have paraded their talents and bodies through the café-concerts and music halls of the City of Light, none ever achieved Josephine Baker's success at appearing to embody simultaneously Africa, America, and even Paris itself. Nevertheless, certain of these lesser-known performers also deserve our attention. I shall take a look at the careers of three such women: Aïcha Goblet, Julie Luce, and Simone Luce, or D'al-Al. Interestingly, all three happen to appear—alongside the profile of their friend, painter Jules Pascin—in a picture taken at a masked ball given by Montparnasse artists in the late 1920s.

Aïcha Goblet

Among the many models working in Montparnasse during the years between the first and second world wars, Aïcha attracted singular attention. As early as 1914, Marjorie Howard, reporting for Vanity Fair, described her encounter with Aïcha at the Bal Bullier dance hall as follows:

Ayesha wears a turban over her woolen pate. A coal black negress from Martinique, she sits for the artists, and stoutly maintains that she is an American. She carries an imitation gold card-case and all her cards are magnificently scalloped with gilt edges and painted with forget-me-nots. They are engraved with one word, "Ayesha."

The details about Aïcha's visiting card may be accurate, but she was neither Martiniquan nor coal black, and she never claimed to be American. She was born before the end of the century in Hazebrouck, in northern France, to a working-class family, the Goblets. Her father, a native of Martinique, was a juggler in a traveling circus. At the age of 6, she performed in the ring as a bareback horse rider, and at 16 left for Paris to model for Pascin. She appeared from time to time at La Rotonde, where customers would gaze at her admiringly. Writer and art critic André Salmon writes:

If Aïcha is often naked, she rarely undoes her head kerchief—now cabbage-green, now the color of silver—which suits her so well. Aïcha is too much a girl from Roubaix not to be perfectly civilized. She sits, she dances, she is pleasant. Long before Josephine Baker launched the fashion of banana belts, Aïcha wore, at wild parties in Montparnasse, her diminutive raffia skirt.

Salmon had known Aïcha since her débuts in Paris, and she appears in his 1920 novel La Nègresse du Sacré Cœur. Later he wrote a preface for her short memoirs, which were published in Mon Paris magazine. One of her memoirs begins:

There are not two Aïchas like me. What is extraordinary in my case, is that I am a blonde, although a Negro. As for my skin, it is fast dyed, and, whether blonde or black, my hair is fuzzy ... "But what is so extraordinary about her?" you'll say. Well, I am not African at all. Mind you, I am Flemish.

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© 2008 Barnard Center for Research on Women | S&F Online - Double Issue 6.1-6.2: Fall 2007/Spring 2008 - Josephine Baker: A Century in the Spotlight