Baker's 'Secret' exposed

Shawn Dooley

Issue date: 5/4/06 Section: LifeStyle


A digital multimedia extravaganza, "Josephine Baker: A Centennial Remix," was unveiled in the Winifred Moore Auditorium April 28, highlighting the FBI investigation of the famed jazz singer and Harlem Renaissance figure.

"Josephine Baker: A Centennial Remix" is a collaboration of Webster University and St. Louis Community College Forest Park. It is a combination of different media, including electronic media, theater and music.

Paul Guzzardo, head of production on "Josephine Baker: A Centennial Remix," said this show is a part of a digital culture that incorporates all media.

The show included DJ Leon Lamont, VJ Zlatko Cosic, dancing by Cora Camille and various cameramen. VJ Zlatko Cosic mixed a transparent face of Baker with FBI files scrolling across a screen. The visual was not a movie, but snippets of video and film that created a story. The visual and the music related Baker's FBI file to controversy in modern media like copyright issues of shared music files.

The show was based on the FBI files of three individuals, Josephine Baker, J. Edgar Hoover and Walter Winchell and how their lives intertwined in the 1940s. Baker was a globe-trotting entertainer, who was followed and harassed by U.S. government agencies, for her involvement in the Civil Rights movement. J. Edgar Hoover was the FBI Director at the time. Walter Winchell was a journalist notorious for putting the personal lives of entertainers over the airwaves.

All three had an FBI file that was off limits to public access, until the late 1990s. Guzzardo said that Baker's file was 500 pages, Winchell's file was 3,000 pages, and Hoover's file is 10,000 pages. After its initial release, Hoover's file has since been blocked from public access.

Approximately 30 people attended the event.

Alumna Sandra Roberts said, "I'm not familiar with this
genre, but the fusion of media did not focus on Baker."

Roberts' friend, Steven Parish said, "I'm not quite sure how Josephine Baker tied into this, there is not connection between the music and the (visual)."

Guzzardo said he is fascinated with the story of Baker, Hoover and Winchell. According to Guzzardo, they are some of the most important cultural figures of the 21st century.

Guzzardo co-wrote and co-produced a play, "Secrets," also about Josephine Baker which played at STLCC Forest Park in 2005. He said that this show is a continuation of the play, but in a new form.

"It's interesting, but I'm just not sure how it's mixed," said senior Jason Tompkins, a video production major. "I think Josephine Baker has a lot of relevance professionally and politically."

Guzzardo said the show will continue to be shown at other universities.