Table of Contents
Throughout modern history, Paris has been known as a hub of international commerce, cultural exchange, and new artistic movements in fields ranging from music to fashion. Paris has not only been a site of creation for new artistic ideas but has also been profoundly influenced by different cultures and syncretic modes of artistic expressions from around the world. Some of the foremost influences upon the Parisian cultural landscape come from Black American individuals and communities. Icons such as Josephine Baker and writers like Richard Wright have left an indelible legacy in Paris.
Today, the lasting legacy of Black Americans in Paris is especially prominent in the realm of entertainment. As such, a team of third-year students at Princeton University has designed this walking tour to outline key spots that highlight the contributions of Black Americans in Paris and the consequent cultural imprints of black entertainment upon Parisian culture. In this tour, we will provide an itinerary and a map, and you’ll see a variety of music clubs, food stops, and bookstores that all relate to black entertainment and art. The stops included in this tour, in the order in which you will visit them, are Les Deux Magots, Cafe de Tournon, Shakespeare & Company, Cafe Oberkampf, Muse Grevin, L’Église de Madeleine, Theatre de Champs Elysee, Moussa L’Africain, Les Duc des Lombards, and Chateau Rouge. Many of these locations were frequented by historically significant individuals ranging from James Baldwin, who visited Cafe de Tournon and Les Deux Magots – hotspots for prominent American writers and thinkers who relocated to Paris – during the 1950’s, to Josephine Baker, who was known for her dancing and acting, and performed at locations such as Theatre de Champs Elysee and L’Église de Madeleine beginning in the 1920’s. However, while many stops included are focused on the historic impact of Black Americans in Paris, the scope of this tour is not limited to Black Americans. This tour also features sites that are a part of Paris’s many other diverse black communities, such as the restaurant Moussa L’Africain, which showcases ways that West African cuisine has impacted French culinary tradition. Sites such as these demonstrate that black history in Paris is by no means monolithic or exclusively American. Black American artists and entertainers constitute an important assortment of voices that speak to black experience and impact in Paris, but they are also part of a larger picture.
By the end of this tour, one will see that Paris is not merely rich in its history of Black American contributions to entertainment, but rather, one will see that the historic contributions of Black Americans to Paris have continued to shape the artistic development of Paris in the present and that modern-day Black Americans – in addition to a diverse variety of black communities from around the globe – are still contributing to Paris today. The fact that so many historic sites that prominent black figures of the 20th century frequented and made their own are still thriving today, and that Black American forms of art such as jazz are still widely popular in Paris, shows that the Black American experience in Paris is a living and breathing legacy.
Les Deux Magots
Location: 6 Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés, 75006 Paris, France
Hours: 7:30AM-1AM everyday
Les Deux Magots is a famous cafe that once had the reputation of being the gathering place of the intellectual elite of the city, including many African American writers. The website for Les Deux Magots describes the cafe as “a particularly charming district with a distinctive atmosphere, spirit of freedom and a renowned café! Its spacious seating area where the souls of poets hover, its terrace opposite the church, its waiters arrayed in black and white all set the mood of Saint-Germain. This is where you’ll experience Paris life, the paradise of words and bistros.”
Breakfast is served from 7:30AM-12PM. Breakfast selections include pastries, yoghurt, bacon and meat, sandwiches, freshly-squeezed juices, hot drinks, and desserts. Prices for breakfast ranges around 10-30 euros. Popular items include the desserts, made by a famous local chef, pastries, and drinks, but the main attraction of Les Deux Magots is the vibrant history surrounding the cafe.
Famously, a meeting between Wright and Baldwin occurred on the second floor of this cafe. Baldwin published a controversial essay, “Everybody’s Protest Novel,” criticizing protest novels as dehumanizing Black characters, which Wright took offense over as he had written many protest novels, leading to the famous conflict between Wright and Baldwin. Richard Wright is famous for protest novels like Native Son (1940) and his autobiography Black Boy (1945). Les Deux Magots is famous as a historical cafe frequented by many renowned artists that contributed to Paris’ vibrant cultural life. Today, it is still frequented by many people from the world of arts and literature, fashion, and politics; you can often see many tourists dining at Les Deux Magots in order to experience the colorful history of this cafe. In 1933, the Deux Magots Award, one of the oldest literary prizes, was created to bring public attention to talented writers.
- “Les Deux Magots – 6 Place Saint-Germain-Des-Prés.” Les Deux Magots – Café Restaurant Saint Germain des Pres. Accessed November 7, 2019. http://www.lesdeuxmagots.fr/en/paris-restaurant.html.
Cafe de Tournon
Location: 18 rue de Tournon, Metro Odéon
Hours: 7:30 am – 12:00 am every day. Closed on Sundays.
This café is on the bottom floor of the Hôtel de la Poste near the beautiful Luxemburg gardens and was originally a hub for Austrian refugees before the Second World War. However, in the 1950’s it became a local favorite of famous African American expatriates including James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Chester Himes, Ollie Harrington, and other artists and writers.
This café is featured in Richard Wright’s unpublished novel Island of Hallucination. In his Paris years, Wright would regularly come to this cafe to drink coffee, write, and play with the pinball machine – as well as debate and discuss art and literature with other expatriates. The Paris Review was also formulated by George Plimpton in this cafe.
This restaurant also has significance in the history of jazz; it is widely regarded as the place of origin for St. Germain jazz music and was the venue where Duke Ellington made his Parisian debut.
It serves breakfast, dinner, and lunch. Open from 7:00 in the morning till midnight every day except for Sundays, the menu sports delicate starters such as escargot or foie gras mi-cuit torchon, serves main courses including steaks and cheeseburgers, and desserts like moelleux au chocolat. There are several local wine selections as well.
One reviewer said of this restaurant “Had no information about the restaurant. Was walking along one night around dinner time and decided it looked inviting. We were served by one of the bartenders, who was a very nice guy — reserved but very solicitous and was open with suggestions. I had a beef bourgonion (sp?) that was excellent, and my wife had a very good fish dish … Small, nothing special to look at, but very cozy, great food and great service.”
The average cost of a meal at this restaurant is 35 euros.
- Primary source photo (circa 1950); BERRETTY, Dominique. “Parisian Cafe in Paris, France in the 1950s – Inside Parisian Cafe Le…” Getty Images. Accessed November 7, 2019.
- Washington, Ellery. “James Baldwin’s Paris.” The New York Times. The New York Times, January 17, 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/travel/james-baldwins-paris.html.
- “Restaurant Café Tournon – 75006 Paris.” TheFork. Accessed November 7, 2019. https://www.thefork.com/restaurant/cafe-tournon/343489#tripadvisor.
- TripAdvisor. “Terrific Experience – Review of Cafe Tournon, Paris, France.” TripAdvisor. Accessed November 7, 2019. https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187147-d1203390-r143226005-Cafe_Tournon-Paris_Ile_de_France.html.
Shakespeare & Company
Location: 37 rue de la Bûcherie, in the 5th Arrondissement, directly opposite Notre-Dame on the Left Bank
Monday-Saturday 10AM-10PM, Sunday 12:30PM-8PM
Shakespeare and Company, arguably one of the most famous independent bookshops in the world, faces the Seine and looks out onto the Notre Dame, a scenic view of Paris. The 17th-century building is a breath of fresh air from the modern city with its weather-beaten storefront and signage. Sylvia Beach, an American expatriate, owned Shakespeare and Co in the 1920s and it quickly became a hangout spot for Lost Generation writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Joyce. Sylvia Beach’s bookshop and lending library was closed during the Nazi occupation but was reopened by another American, George Whitman, in 1951. The current Shakespeare and Company was frequented by many black American writers, including Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, and James Baldwin. Over the course of its lifetime, it is estimated that over 30,000 aspiring writers have bunked at Shakespeare and Company over the decades. C.J. Flood, a British writer, writes of his experience at Shakespeare and Company:
“I didn’t get as much writing done during my time there as I intended, but I certainly felt like a writer.”
Despite the somewhat slothful atmosphere that surrounds the old and knobby bookstore, many writers and artists fall in love with the unique bookstore that was the “bookstore of [Dave Eggers’] dreams.” Krista Halverson, a former editor of Francis Ford Coppola’s literary magazine, Zoetrope, accurately depicts this image of Shakespeare and Company: “With every piece of paper you picked up, there could be no assumption of what it would be. I found a résumé of someone who just wanted to work at the bookstore, from maybe 1976, stuck to a letter from Anaïs Nin—stuck to it with a dead cockroach.” Some important things to keep in mind while visiting this centuries-old bookstore is to remember the importance of having a place to call home for many artists and writers looking for a place to let their creativity flow.
- Handy, Bruce. “Shakespeare and Company: A Legendary Bookstore in Paris.” Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair, January 30, 2015. https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2014/11/shakespeare-and-company-paris-george-whitman.
Location: 3 Rue Neuve Popincourt, 75011 Paris
Hours: 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Centrally located in Paris and serving traditional North African dishes, Café Oberkampf is a small and comforting café for anyone to enjoy a flavorsome breakfast, lunch, or brunch. Famous for their shakshuka (baked eggs and spicy tomato/chili sauce), Café Oberkampf has a fascinating menu heavily influenced by North African cuisine. While customers have the option to order traditional French breakfast items, the bulk of the café’s menu contains either traditional North African dishes, such as shakshuka, or French staples with an African twist. For example, one of Café Oberkampf menu items called “Lost in Cheeseland” is a grilled cheese made with three French cheeses. At first, this may seem to many customers as a typical French-styled sandwich of toasted bread with melted cheese, similar to croque madame and croque monsieur. However, “Lost in Cheeseland” puts its own spin on the traditional grilled cheese by adding a spicy chili jam into the crispy and cheesy dish. The addition of spice into a French-influenced dish is a technique seen in multiple menu items that adds a unique North African twist. Furthermore, the café does a great job at appealing to a wide variety of customers. If a customer does not necessarily enjoy spice, there are plenty of other options, such as avocado toast, granola, and banana bread, just to name a few. In addition to the food, the café offers a wide variety of beverages and coffees, such as their dirty chai (a chai tea blend with added coffee.) While the menu is efficiently constructed to maximize customer appeal, the design of the restaurant itself is inviting and comforting. The review seen in Solo Sophie Travel and Culture gives useful information about the café: “Good food, great drinks and an even better atmosphere, Oberkampf is everything you want for a light-hearted meal with friends.”
Name: Musée Grévin
Location: 10 Boulevard Montmartre, 75009 Paris, France (2e Arrondissement)
Hours: M-F 10AM-5PM, Weekends 9:30AM-6PM
Price: €20 pp for a dated ticket (€24.50 pp for a non dated ticket; Families [groups of 4] €17 pp)
“C’est la maison de la réminiscence et du romanesque, le grand tiroir à souvenirs, et peut-être l’incarnation boulevardière et ironique des pyram’ides d’où quarante siècles contemplent les vivants…”
“It’s the house of reminiscence and romance, the big souvenir drawer, and perhaps the incarnation boulevardière and ironical pyramides from where forty centuries contemplate the living …”
–– Léon-Paul Fargue, Preface to Claude Cézan’s 1947 “Le Musée Grévin”, a book produced by the Museum detailing its inception and various exhibits at the time
Musée Grévin is one of the world’s first wax figure museums, opening in 1882 and still retaining its historic street front facade and original wax figures, along with new introductions that reflect the rapidly-globalizing city. Initially designed to compete with Britain’s Madame Tussaud’s, the Grevin in Paris has carved out a unique space for itself by not only displaying celebrities and political icons but using their figurines to re-create pivotal moments in French history, like staging the court hearing of Marie Antoinette! Check out figures like the revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat and Napoleon alongside the one and only Josephine Baker, and many more! While this stop is more of a classic tourist haunt, it’s a nice place to pop into to check out French history in a fun interactive way. The famed “Palais de Mirages” now housed in the Grevin was also a part of the 1900 Exposition Universelle (also known as the Paris Exposition), a World’s Fair held in Paris at the turn of the century. We invite those on the tour to immerse themselves in this hall, and perhaps consider the massive significance of World’s Fairs throughout history; not only were these events the debuts for a slew of massive technological innovations, they also marked the convergence of people from all over the globe. As Americans visiting Paris under different circumstances in this modern era, take a minute to think about the following questions:
- What sort of people get to travel and thus be exposed to events like World’s Fairs— and trips like the one you are participating now?
- What incentives have brought you to Paris?
- What things remain the same about migratory patterns between different eras?
A Behind the scenes look at the renovation/updating of the famous Hall of Mirrors (Palais des Mirages) at Musee Grevin.
- CÊZAN, CLAUDE. LE MUSÉE GRÉVIN. Edited by EDOUARD PRIVAT. N.p., 1947.
- Museum website.
L’Eglise de Madeleine
Location: Place de la Madeleine, 75008 Paris, France
Hours: 9:30AM-7PM everyday
Entry fee: FREE
The construction for L’église de la Madeleine began in 1764 and finished in 1842, built in the style of a Greek temple without crosses or bell towers, atypical for a religious building. Walking into the church building, you can see sculptures, paintings, and a famous neo-Byzantine mosaic created by Charles Joseph Lameire. Throughout the year, the church holds many events, including church services and quality classical music concerts.
Josephine Baker’s career as an entertainer thrived in Paris, where society was more integrated than America which shunned the idea of an influential black woman. She became a popular icon with her performance wearing a banana skirt and quickly rose to stardom in France. Josephine Baker served France during World War II as an entertainer for its troops and as a correspondent for the French Resistance. Baker continued to perform even days before her death, in the presence of celebrities like Princess Grace of Monaco and Sophia Loren. On April 12, 1975, Josephine Baker died from a cerebral hemorrhage. Fittingly, her funeral was held in the L’église de la Madeleine, a Roman Catholic church, in Montparnasse, where Baker spent a lot of her time. Montparnasse is the site of her first residence in the city. In 2001, Paris inaugurated a square in Montparnasse in her memory, Place Josephine Baker, which honors not only her achievements as an entertainer but also her philanthropic activities and contributions to the French Resistance effort.
In April 1975, her funeral procession was held at this church with over 20,000 people coming to mourn her death. The photograph included below shows her largely-attended funeral ceremony, also famously attended by her celebrity friend, Princess Grace of Monaco. The French government honored her with a 21-gun salute. Baker was the first black American woman to be buried with French military honors in France.
- Primary Source: De Hoe, Robert. Photo of Josephine Baker’s Funeral. Photograph. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Beinecke Digital Collections. https://brbl-dl.library.yale.edu/vufind/Record/3772465, (accessed November 6, 2019).
- “The Official Licensing Website of Josephine Baker.” Josephine Baker. CMG Worldwide. Accessed November 7, 2019. https://www.cmgww.com/stars/baker/.
- Bureau, Paris Convention and Visitors. “Église De La Madeleine – Paris Tourist Office.” en.parisinfo.com. Paris Official website of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. Accessed November 7, 2019. https://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71158/Eglise-de-la-Madeleine
Theatre de Champs Elysees
Name: Théâtre des Champs-Élysée
Location: 15 Avenue Montaigne, 75008 Paris, France
Hours: 12pm-7pm (closed Sundays)
On October 2, 1925, a group called La Revue Negre opened their show on this stage. The group was led by Josephine Baker alongside twenty other Harlem musicians and dancers. Among the Paris elites at the show was a correspondent for The New Yorker who gave a colorful description of Baker’s opening performance,
“She [Baker] made her entry entirely nude except for a pink flamingo feather between her limbs; she was being carried upside down and doing the splits on the shoulder of a black giant… She was an unforgettable female ebony statue. A scream of salutation spread through the theater. Whatever happened next was unimportant. The two specific elements had been established and were unforgettable—her magnificent dark body, a new model that to the French proved for the first time that black was beautiful, and the acute response of the white masculine public in the capital of hedonism of all Europe—Paris.”
Paul Colin, a young up and coming French artist, received his big break when he was commissioned to make a poster for the Revue. The success of Colin’s design, which echoes primitivism both as an art movement and stereotype portrayed by performers like Baker on stage, launched his career as a poster artist. In the next 25 years, he created 1,900 posters and hundreds of sets for the theatre. In 1929, just four years after becoming involved in African American theatre, he published a portfolio titled Le Tumulte Noir—a term that has come to label this period of Parisienne fascination with African American music and dance. In looking through the portfolio and adjacent works, it is clear that Colin was amused with Baker. It is said that the two were involved in a brief affair that turned into long-time friendship that resulted in him producing graphic art of Baker over her entire career. One image of Baker in Le Tumulte Noir, perhaps more iconic than the performance itself, depicts Baker in her famous banana skirt. The original skirt can be traced back to Baker’s performance at Folies-Bergère music hall in 1926, where she played a girl dancing in the jungle.
- Walker, LuLen. Le Tumulte Noir. Accessed November 6, 2019. https://npg.si.edu/exh/noir/broch3.htm.
Route and Interactive Map
Paris has a large number of highly efficient bus routes and calling a bus is often the most effective mode of transportation. You can buy tickets (best to do this in batches) at metro stations either at the information/ticket desk or the automatic machines much like in NYC subway stations. Call a Bus by standing at a stop (clearly marked) and holding your hand up as the appropriate bus approached the stop. Enter at the front of the bus and make sure to stamp your ticket and hold on to it. If you don’t you might get fined! Leave via the back door of the bus. Indicate you want to get off by pressing one of the red buttons on the walls of the bus.
The metro in Paris is very easy to use and is an experience unto itself. Buy tickets in the metro station in the same way as bus tickets, either at the desk or the machine. For this walking tour, you won’t need a lot of cash, but a value of €10 or so is not a bad idea. Each metro line has a corresponding number and color, so make sure you pay attention and match these up. Otherwise, the stations are clearly marked above ground and there are maps in the station and on the trains so that you can tell where you are and where you are going to.
- Les Deux Magots
- Walk to the next place
- Cafe de Tournon
- Shakespeare & Company
- Metro Option Bus 96 25min. (every seven minutes) Saint-Michel Saint Germain to Parmentier Republique
- Cafe Oberkampf
- Metro Option Route 9 €1.90 20Min. (every five minutes)
- Musee Grevin
- Metro Option Route 8 €1.90 15Min. (every five minutes) Grand Boulevards to Madeleine
- L’Eglise de Madeleine
- Metro Option Bus 42 14min (every 10min) Madeleine to Montaigne Francois 1er
- Theatre de Champs Elysee
Extra Destinations: Food, Shopping, Etc.
Location: THREE locations
- 28 Avenue de Saint-Ouen, 75018 Paris (18th Arrondissement)
- 330 Rue des Pyrénées, 75020 Paris
- 54 Rue Jeanne d’Arc, 75013 Paris
Hours: 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM
Significance: I would suggest going to the Afric’N’Fusion in the 18th Arrondissement, which is an area of Paris heavily influenced by African culture. However, if the walking tour during lunchtime ends up in another district, the restaurant chain is spread out among three different parts of Paris (see addresses above). The restaurants all serve traditional African cuisine with modern fast-casual techniques.
Location: 21 Rue Pierre Lescot, 75001 Paris
Meal: Dinner – Option 2
Hours: 12:00 PM – 12:00 AM
Significance: Moussa L’Africain is a lively yet comforting restaurant in the heart of Paris. Attracting both locals and tourists, Moussa combines West African cuisine with French culinary practices. It is well known among the African-influenced restaurants in the area and has rapidly gained popularity in recent years. While it has many notable African dishes, the restaurant is perhaps most well-known for its Thieb, short for Thieboudienne, a Senegalese dish of fish, tomato, rice, and vegetables. Thieb is commonly served among the majority of Senegalese-influenced restaurants in Paris, but Moussa rises from its competitors with its use of fresh ingredients combined with advanced culinary techniques. In 2006, shortly after the restaurants grand opening, the food and travel company, Bonjour Paris, wrote a promising review on Moussa, mentioning its strong and successful impact on the African restaurant scene in Paris: “Moussa L’African raised the standard of African restaurants higher with its recent opening.” Although the writer of the review, Kiratiana Freelon, dined for lunch, her review lists Moussa as “the most elegant” compared to other top African restaurants in Paris. With Bonjour’s reputation of being one of the most influential foods and travel companies in the world, a bad review from them can significantly impair a restaurant’s success. For Moussa L’Africain this was not the case, as Freelon admired the restaurant, while specifically mentioning that the Thieb “uses some of the highest quality ingredients (especially rice) of any African restaurant.”
- Freelon, Kiratiana. “Thieboudienne.” Bonjour Paris. Bonjour, June 1, 2006. https://bonjourparis.com/archives/thieboudienne/.
- Nadeau, Sophie. “Cafe Oberkampf Review: Best Brunch Spot in Paris, France.” Solo Sophie Travel and Culture. Amazon Associates, January 11, 2017. https://www.solosophie.com/cafe-oberkampf-cafe-review/.
Le Duc de Lombards
Location: 42 rue des Lombards, 75001
Hours: Monday-Thursday: 7pm-12am, Friday-Saturday: 7pm-4am
Every Monday-Saturday, there are two concerts per night, at 7:30 and 9:30, generally ranging between 20 and 30 Euros per person
Friday and Saturday, there are jam sessions with free admission, 11:30-late
Le Duc des Lombards is currently one of the most popular and internationally well-renowned jazz clubs in Paris, demonstrating the continuing influence of jazz on the city of Paris, and the continuing presence of Paris in the international jazz scene. Jazz was first brought to Paris by the Black American soldiers who were stationed there during World War II and has been an essential part of Paris’s landscape of music and entertainment ever since. Although many of the jazz clubs that witnessed the birth of jazz in Paris in the early 20’s such as Le Grand Duc and Bricktop’s (which was opened by Black American star Ada Bricktop) have long since closed (and many of the clubs that hosted jazz greats of the ’50s and ’60s, like Le Chat Qui Pêche, are also no longer running), the closing of jazz clubs in Paris never signified a dwindling interest in jazz, but rather simply provided room for new venues to enter the scene.
Le Duc des Lombards opened in 1984 and was among a wave of Parisian jazz clubs that opened in the 1980s, also including the clubs New Morning, Sunset/Sunside, and Jazz Cafe Montparnasse. Les Duc des Lombards continues the traditions of jazz in Paris while also pushing it in new directions, and while it has featured famed jazz musicians such as Ahmad Jamal and Wynton Marsalis, it has also featured up-and-coming jazz musicians such as Reggie Washington and Melissa Aldanna. One of the most well-renowned jazz musicians who played at Le Duc des Lombards is Archie Shepp, a jazz saxophonist, composer, and social activist. Archie Shepp visited Le Duc des Lombards in 2009, but this was far from the first time that Archie Shepp was in Paris playing jazz. Archie Shepp began playing in Paris in the 1960s, and since then, he has spent many extended periods of time in Paris. His 1970 album Doodlin’ was recorded in Paris and has played at many other venues in Paris such as La Salle Pleyel, Le Chat Qui Pêche, and Palais Des Glaces. Le Duc des Lombards continues Archie Shepp’s legacy in Paris and continues Paris’s status as an international stage in the global jazz scene.
- Primary: ducdeslombards75. “Archie Shepp au Duc des Lombards.” YouTube video. Oct 6, 2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBQ6QxTVtIo.
- Primary: Guy Le Querrec, 1967, “Le Chat Qui Pêche” Jazz Club, Paris, France, https://pro.magnumphotos.com/image/PAR47278.html.
- Stovall, Tyler. Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light. Boston, Mass: Houghton Mifflin, 2012.
- Duc des Lombards. “Billetterie.” Duc des Lombards. Accessed November 7, 2019. https://billetterie.ducdeslombards.com/.
- Project, Jazz Discography. “Archie Shepp Discography.” jazzdisco. Accessed November 7, 2019. https://www.jazzdisco.org/archie-shepp/discography/#690814.
Location: Neighborhood; 18th Arrondissement (Main Train Station: 75018 Paris, France)
Château Rouge is a neighborhood in Paris populated by mostly black African immigrants from former French colonies such as Cameroon and Senegal. Spend an hour or two walking down the bustling streets and check out one of the many storefronts selling traditional ankara wares and other goods.