African-American Paris – the Left Bank

Mention the Left Bank in Paris and visions of Bohemian nightspots, university students sipping coffee at sidewalk cafés, and vendors selling books and souvenirs along the Seine River spring to mind. While this image is quintessentially European, the careful observer will also note evidence of African-American influence there!

For example, Caveau de la Huchette, an old, atmospheric jazz club on rue de la Huchette, boasts an image of Louis Armstrong at the entrance. This and numerous other venues in the Left Bank and throughout the city owe their existence to the presence of the African-American musicians who introduced jazz to France in World War I.

Caveau de la Huchette 3

Caveau de la Huchette
© Discover Paris!

Not far away, on rue du Petit Pont, a mosaic likeness of Muhammad Ali graces the façade of the bar Polly Maggoo.

Fliers advertising gospel music concerts abound. At least one such concert is held in the city during any given week!

The African-American influence is much more far-reaching than these physical elements. But one must be extremely knowledgeable or tour the city with a qualified guide to recognize and appreciate it.

Case in point: most Americans don’t realize that the Left Bank was home for celebrated African Americans such as writers Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Chester Himes, and artists such as Herbert Gentry, Ed Clark, and Beauford Delaney. They don’t know that Gertrude Stein helped Richard Wright settle in Paris or that James Baldwin rewrote Go Tell It on the Mountain at the famous Café de Flore.

Another case in point: numerous African Americans have studied at the Sorbonne – including Carter G. Woodson, founder of Negro History Week (which is now African-American History Month). French students who participated in the 1968 uprising were inspired by civil rights activists such as Stokely Carmichael and a number of African-American expats who lived in Paris, and who were at the time sympathetic to the movement and offered the students assistance. In collaboration with several other universities, the Sorbonne has organized multiple events honoring and exploring the African-American presence in Europe.

The beautiful Luxembourg Garden was frequented by African-American writers and artists before and after the Second World War. Henry Ossawa Tanner’s works hung in the Luxembourg Museum until 1937 and Lois Maïlou Jones painted several landscapes in the garden before and after the war. Across the street from the garden, a post-WWII crowd of African-American writers, artists, and musicians hung out at the Café Tournon.

Luxembourg Garden © Discover Paris!

Luxembourg Garden
© Discover Paris!

Farther west, the Saint Germain des Prés quarter was James Baldwin’s stomping ground. He submitted his famous article Everybody’s Protest Novel to the editors of Zero magazine, which was located near the Saint-Germain church. Art galleries are prominent in this area, and African Americans have exhibited their works at several of them. Down by the river, a 19th-century African American studied at the domed Institut de France (French Institute) before returning to the U. S. to become a Shakespearean actor.

Institut de France © Discover Paris!

Institut de France
© Discover Paris!

If you’re surprised to learn about the history of African Americans in Paris, you’ll be even more surprised to learn that the information presented here is just the tip of the iceberg! African Americans have over 200 years of history in Paris and their influence extends throughout the entire city, not just the Left Bank. They continue to leave their mark on the city today.

For more information, visit Entrée to Black Paris.

Monique Y. Wells
Monique Y. Wells is the co-founder of Discover Paris! and the creator of Entrée to Black Paris tours.

Tom Reeves
Discover Paris

Beauford Delaney at the Pompidou Center

I am passionate about the life and art of Beauford Delaney.

Beauford was an African-American man, an artist, and an expatriate. Born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1901, he moved to Paris in 1953 after spending several years of his adult life in Boston and New York City. He died in Paris in 1979, leaving a legacy of brilliant portraits and abstract expressionist works for the world to enjoy.

As president of the French not-for-profit association called Les Amis de Beauford Delaney, I regularly write a blog to increase public awareness of Beauford’s legacy. I am pleased to announce that one of his works is on display at the Pompidou Center in Paris. It was donated to the museum by Solange and Jacques du Closel, who were devoted patrons of Beauford’s art.

Centre Pompidou © Discover Paris!

Centre Pompidou
© Discover Paris!

This magnificent abstract is part of an exposition entitled Multiple Modernities 1905-1970 (also called Plural Modalities). It hangs in a short corridor (Traverse G) between Rooms 31 and 34 on the 5th floor of the museum.

Because the painting is displayed in a corridor, rather than a room, it can be difficult to find. When I went to see it, one of the attendants was kind enough to walk me to the exact location of the painting.

Monique and Beauford's Untitled (1957) Oil on canvas © Discover Paris! © Estate of Beauford Delaney by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire, Court Appointed Administrator

Monique and Beauford’s Untitled (1957) Oil on canvas
© Discover Paris!
© Estate of Beauford Delaney
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

The label next to the painting presents the following information in English (translated from French):

African-American artist Pierre [sic] Beauford-Delaney studied in Boston then at the Art Student League in New York, with John Sloan. He joined the Harlem Renaissance movement, which was struggling for African-American emancipation, and started painting live portraits of jazz musicians playing in Harlem jazz clubs. He had settled in Paris by 1953, when he had gravitated toward abstract expressionism. In this work, the distinguishable blue figure in the thick swirl of predominantly red and yellow paint could be an animal.

The biographical information is scant and not quite accurate (Beauford began his New York career by painting dancers and society women at Billy Pierce’s Dancing School, not by painting jazz musicians). Also, for reasons unknown, the Pompidou Center has listed his name as Pierre Beauford-Delaney in the English version of the label, rather than simply Beauford Delaney.

All that aside, the work is superb – it is well worth a trip to the museum to see it! The painting is on display through January 26, 2015.

Centre Georges Pompidou
19 Rue Beaubourg
75004 Paris
Telephone: 01 44 78 12 33
Metro: Rambuteau, Hôtel de Ville, and Châtelet
Open every day except Tuesdays and May 1.
Hours: 11am-10pm. No tickets sold after 8pm.

Monique Y.Wells
Monique Y. Wells is the co-founder of Discover Paris! and the creator of Entrée to Black Paris tours.

Tom Reeves
Discover Paris

Plan for a Delightful Dining Experience

How to Plan for a Delightful Dining Experience on Your Next Trip to Paris

People travel to Paris for a variety of reasons, ranging from business trips to summer vacation. Whatever your reason for making the trip, you will find your visit to the City of Light much more enjoyable if you take advantage of your presence there to dine on the fine French cuisine that hundreds of Parisian restaurants offer.

By fine French cuisine, I don’t mean the standard steak-and-French-fries fare that is served up in the city’s myriad cafés. Nor do I mean the exquisite haute cuisine that is served in exclusive restaurants. To me, fine French cuisine is served in mid-range restaurants where the price for a three-course meal ranges from around 28€ to 35€, excluding beverage.

The following are some ideas on how to prepare for your fine-dining experience in Paris:

Determine in which quarters you will spend most of your time while in Paris

Do you plan just to hit the major sightseeing spots and then quickly move on to Belgium? If so, this will limit the areas in which you will find good restaurants. Many fine restaurants can be found off the tourist circuit with only a little extra effort.

Determine whether you are truly ready to try French cuisine

Many travelers aren’t open to new dining experiences and abhor the idea of eating foreign food. I once dined in a Parisian restaurant with an American woman who ordered a chicken dish baked in brick pastry. When it was served, she raised the plate high and studied the food for the longest time. Finally, she lowered the plate and, with great reluctance, began eating it.

Determine how far you are willing to travel from your hotel to get to the restaurant

After a day of sightseeing or shopping, you generally return to your hotel and prepare to go out for dinner. How far are you willing to travel to get to the restaurant that was recommended by a friend or whose name you found on the Internet? Use the Paris metro service Web site to learn precisely where the restaurant is located, the closest metro or bus stop, and the amount of time it will take to get there.

And finally, here is my method for choosing a restaurant for my wife’s and my weekly foray into the marvelous world of French restaurant dining. I begin by consulting The Fork, an on-line restaurant reservation service. There, I look at restaurants that have garnered at least an overall score of 8 out of 10. Then, I look at the rating that these restaurants have garnered on Trip Advisor, an on-line restaurant rating service.

With up to an hour or so of careful research, I usually find a restaurant whose food, service, and ambiance are above reproach.

Bon appétit!

Tom Reeves
Tom Reeves is the author of a recent e-book entitled Dining Out in Paris – What You Need to Know before You Get to the City of Light.

Toli Nameless and Paris Girls Rock Camp

Toli Nameless and Paris Girls Rock Camp

Toli Nameless is a Jamaican-born musician who grew up in New York City. On this side of the Atlantic, she has found a comfortable home as an artist-in-residence at 6b, a cultural center in the Paris suburb of Saint Denis.

Toli Nameless © Discover Paris!

Toli Nameless
© Discover Paris!

We first met Toli last year, when she organized the 3rd edition of Paris Girls Rock Camp as part of an initiative called Girls Rock Camp Alliance (GRCA). Her inspiration to create the camp was “a culmination of the evolution of [her] career in music, education, and women’s development, and the opportunity to provide this type of service in [her] community.”

Toli’s first introduction to GRCA was through the Willie Mae Rock-n-Roll Camp for Girls in Brooklyn, NY. Invited to perform at a benefit concert for the camp, she was sufficiently intrigued with the event that she decided to bring it to Paris. She counts on the support of 6b and GRCA, her year-round partners, and recruits additional partners for the camp each year.

Paris Girls Rock Camp’s mission is to offer a positive educational experience in music to young girls and women in the Paris region. Toli and her partners have organized the camp since 2011.

Public performances following this year’s camp were held at the Cité de l’Histoire de l’Immigration on June 21, 2014 and at Le 6B’s Fabrique des Rêves festival on July 11, 2014.

We caught up with Toli several weeks ago, when she performed at another event, 6b’s annual open house.

Toli Nameless and Paris Girls Rock Camp

6b – garden and façade © Discover Paris!

As an “incubator” for artists of all types, 6b houses over 160 residents in 7000 square meters (roughly 75,350 square feet) of space devoted to workshops, offices, and common areas (exhibition space, screening room, dance hall, restaurant associations…). It welcomes artists, architects, musicians, filmmakers, designers, and artisans. Each person develops his / her project individually, while benefiting from a dynamic group of like-minded associates.

Among the activities organized at 6b are the annual Fabrique à Rêves festival, numerous gallery expositions, and cinema workshops. The city of Saint-Denis is an active supporter of the center.

Monique Y. Wells
Monique Y. Wells is the co-founder of Discover Paris! and the creator of Entrée to Black Paris tours.

Tom Reeves
Discover Paris



Jamericazz in Paris

Alecia McKenzie is an award-winning author from Jamaica who has called Paris home for the past six years.

Denise King is a renowned jazz singer from Philadelphia who has a fabulous gift for improvisation.

Together, these two women have created Jamericazz© – a combination of readings from McKenzie’s books and King’s spontaneous interpretations of the passages into song.

Alecia McKenzie and Denise King (c) Discover Paris!

Alecia McKenzie and Denise King
(c) Discover Paris!

On July 26th, McKenzie and King joined other writers and artists for an evening of literature, jazz, and art at the gallery Espace Kaméléon in Paris’ 14th arrondissement. McKenzie read three passages from Sweetheart, the novel for which she won the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize for the Caribbean Region. She prefaced her recitations by stating that “something has happened” to the main character – a young Jamaican artist named Dulcinea Evers – and informed the audience that she would read passages written in the voice of the protagonist’s father.

After each passage, King wove the story into powerful a cappella riffs, using her own words.

Canadian-Vietnamese writer Caroline Vu followed by introducing her recently published novel Palawan Story, which deals with the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the experience of the Boat People. Then Parisian writer Sadiad Youssouf, who is of Somalian, Vietnamese, and French descent, read from her unpublished French-language manuscript about life in Djibouti and France.

 Vu Can, artist and professor - Sadiad Youssouf, writer - Denise King, singer Caroline Vu, writer and doctor - Alecia McKenzie, writer and artist

Vu Can, artist and professor – Sadiad Youssouf, writer – Denise King, singer
Caroline Vu, writer and doctor – Alecia McKenzie, writer and artist

King rounded out the evening with two a cappella solos, after the audience called for encores.

Along with the readings and music, a selection of oil, acrylic, and ink paintings was on display.

Among them were works by McKenzie and her teenage daughter, who has also been painting for several years.

Yes, McKenzie is an artist as well as an author! She paints in addition to writing journalistic pieces and fiction. She finds this activity to be the most relaxing of all her creative endeavors, and often paints with her children. One of her paintings graces the cover of Sweetheart.

 Cover of Sweetheart

Cover of Sweetheart

McKenzie has been a published writer since high school, when her poems appeared in the Jamaican newspapers The Gleaner and The Star. Her first collection of short stories – Satellite City – won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in 1993 and has been translated into several languages. Additional works include a novella for young people entitled Doctor’s Orders (2005) – and a second collection of short stories called Stories from Yard (2005).

King is a mostly self-taught vocalist whose musical persona is heavily influenced by the likes of Nancy Wilson and Sarah Vaughn. She discovered jazz at the tender age of twelve, thanks to an uncle’s impressive collection of LPs. She was discovered many years later, when a recording professional walked by her front stoop and heard her dulcet tones as she sang to herself. She began recording during the 1990s and has gone on to perform on stages around the world.

The July evening in Paris was the third time that McKenzie and King have performed together. Previously, they have read and sung at a private tribute to Nelson Mandela at the home of a mutual friend in Paris, and at the official launch of Jamericazz© at Waterstones bookstore in Brussels last June. At the launch, McKenzie read complete short stories from her collections, and King improvised poetic jazz vocals based on the readings.

Monique Y. Wells is the co-founder of Discover Paris! and the creator of Entrée to Black Paris tours.

Tom Reeves
Discover Paris

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