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CSO’s African American Network presents Black History Month Josephine Baker tribute

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s African American Network (AAN) presents its fourth annual celebration of National Black History Month, titled “A Sovereign Pout: Le Tumulte Noir of Josephine Baker,” on Saturday, February 29, at 5:00 p.m., in Buntrock Hall at Symphony Center. The Chicago Modern Orchestra Project, the percussion ensemble Tsukasa Taiko and members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) perform Chicago-based composer Renée Baker’s new film score for “Siren of the Tropics” alongside a screening of the 1927 silent film starring the first African American film star, Josephine Baker.

Josephine Baker
Josephine Baker

Before she became a style and entertainment icon, Josephine Baker lived in poverty and faced segregation as a Black artist in America. To further her career, Baker moved to Paris, where she built a following and went on to star in “Siren of the Tropics,” directed by Mario Nalpas and Henri Étiévant. A rags-to-riches tale mirroring Baker’s own life, “Siren” depicts the story of Papitou, a West Indies woman who follows a visiting prospector, André Berval, to France. While her love goes unrequited, Papitou finds her true calling as a dance hall performer and flourishes in Paris. Siren was the first of Baker’s four films and cemented her place in history as a trailblazer for Black entertainers.

Composer Renee Baker
Composer Renee Baker

Chicago-based composer Renée Baker leads the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project, the percussion ensemble Tsukasa Taiko and members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in this performance of her new score to the film.

The program’s title, “A Sovereign Pout: Le Tumulte Noir of Josephine Baker,” takes its name from a series of paintings depicting Josephine Baker as well as other figures of jazz culture in 1920’s Paris.

Before she began composing the new score for “Siren of the Tropics,” Renée Baker traveled to Paris to research the entertainer’s life. This new score reflects the freedom Josephine Baker enjoyed as Paris embraced African American and jazz music nearly a century ago.

A prolific, Chicago-based visual artist, filmmaker, composer and violinist, Renée Baker has collaborated with the CSO African American Network for the past four years. She has composed more than 2,000 works that include symphonies, chamber ensembles, ballets, operas and film scores. Baker treats her compositions as carefully constructed environments that simultaneously showcase a refined grasp of indeterminacy, experimentalism, classicism, subjectivity and objectivity. Her performers and audiences are encouraged to consider music and art’s limitless communicative capabilities. Baker also is the founding music director of the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project (CMOP), an orchestra dedicated to commissioning, performing and recording creative and classical music of many contemporary composers.

Established in 2016, the African American Network has grown to include more than 3,000 members and presents an annual series of programs to create connections and conversation through music. CSO Director of Community Stewardship Sheila Jones curates and hosts the annual series. Ticket prices for AAN events are $25. More information is available at

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