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Julia Bullock '05

January 18, 2019

Julia Bullock '05 was featured in the New York Times on 1.18.19 in its review of “Perle Noire: Meditations for Joséphine,” Bullock's tribute to St. Louis native Josephine Baker. The project came out of her current residency at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "A Haunting Tribute to Josephine Baker: A Show at The Met takes a deeper look at the life of the first black international superstar. In the 1935 film 'Princesse Tam-Tam,' Josephine Baker’s title character is at a chic club when she forgets herself — and her lessons in acting white — at the sound of an African drum. As Baker enters into ecstatic communion with a feverish conga beat, the image cuts back and forth between the black drummer and the floppy-limbed, convulsing black dancer. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Wednesday, the soprano Julia Bullock, the museum’s artist in residence, presented 'Perle Noire: Meditations for Joséphine,' a tribute to the first black international superstar and a defining figure of the Jazz Age. Here, too, the diva shared center stage with an array of drums. But Ms. Bullock and her creative partner, the percussionist-composer Tyshawn Sorey, offered a very different image from the exoticized object of European fantasies in 'Princesse Tam-Tam.' Their darkly captivating show offered a haunting investigation into the psychological shadows and public constructions that shaped the career of a woman who was 'no more primal than Princess Grace,' as Ms. Bullock says in the piece, but for whom the most direct route to entertainment royalty and a chateau in the Périgord meant donning a banana skirt. Ms. Bullock, who like Baker was born in St. Louis, wrote in the program notes that she, too, has sometimes felt the expectation to embrace exotic roles. She became fascinated with Baker’s story, which led from the black vaudeville circuit in Jim Crow America to stardom in Paris, a World War II role in the French Resistance and, back in the United States, public advocacy for the civil rights movement. In this work, which has been revised after previous versions unveiled at festivals in 2016, Ms. Bullock probes the cruelties and constraints that molded Baker and continue to afflict black artists." Read the story in its entirety here.