And Josèphine Baker came to Naples and became man

And Josèphine Baker came to Naples and became man.


E Josèphine Baker venne a Napoli e si fece uomo


In the Naples of the cafe chantant, of the cabaret and the tabarin, in the magical days of Gambrinus and the Salone Margherita, at the time of café-concerts and lookout it often happened that a songwriter wore, in the same show, both the role of a man and the role of a woman.

If the Gambrinus walls could speak they would certainly recall the success of the macchiettista Davide Tatangelo who, dressed as a gaga with a straw hat and a stick, sang the song of the poet Diodato Del Gazio on a French waltz called Bammeniello (1912) and then changed clothes, with a lightning-fast disguise, and sang the waltz of Raffaele Viviani Bammenella (1917) with a girl's wig and fringed shawl. And so Tatangelo was only one of the many artists who experimented with the double man / woman costume. There were many transvestite artists such as Nicola Maldacea, Peppino Villano and lastly Pasquariello who, dressed as a slant girl, sang Niny Pulled up.

In 1932 the splendid black star Josèphine Baker arrived in Naples at the Augusteo theater from Paris with all his French company. At that time Baker was already an international star and was on the way to becoming a true icon of the twentieth century with the merit of having been the first African-American artist in history and of having sensitized public opinion in favor of emancipation of blacks. The news of the arrival of the Baker put all Naples in fibrillation, the tickets sold out loud. The whole town wanted to see the naked black chest of this wonderful chocolate-colored sloth. The Baker, in fact, went out on stage wearing only a skirt of sixteen bananas while going wild in a madman Charleston: a music still unknown in Europe at the time. Baker's Neapolitan show was an unprecedented success.

However, a few weeks after the French company had left, the name of Josèphine Baker appeared on the variety bill at the Trianon Theater. How was that possible? Could it ever be true that after the triumph at the Augusteo, the "banana sciantosa" - as the Neapolitans called it - remained in the city? The great curiosity caused the box office of the rival theater to crowd but once the show started it was understood that Baker was not the Baker but the singer Fegolino who, painting her whole body with a dark make-up, wearing a wig and earrings, wriggled with a skirt of bananas that covered his male sex and sang the same song as the star in French. The Trianon Theater echoed with applause and the whole story was announced worn out for a whole month.

To interrupt the success of the show, a fascist hierarch thought the number unsuitable for morality. Especially since at that time it was in the process of preparing for the war in Africa and it was considered that a black woman (or fake woman) dancing in a banana skirt was unbecoming. But when all seemed lost, Fregolino had a brilliant intuition that made all of Naples laugh and made an era: at the end of the number with bananas he began to sing Black Face and the hierarch was unable to say anything more.

Thus it was that in Naples Josèphine Baker became a man and then became a woman again.

Alessandro Basso

Become a supporter!

Storie di Napoli è il più grande sito web di promozione e storytelling della regione Campania. È gestito esclusivamente da giovani professionisti residenti nel territorio regionale: contribuisci anche tu alla crescita del progetto. Per te, con un piccolo contributo, ci saranno numerosissimi vantaggi: tessera di Storie Campane, libri e magazine gratis e inviti ad eventi esclusivi!

Leave a comment

error: NOTICE: You can't copy the content!