Tag: Josephine Baker

Jazzing up the 1920s: Harley Foxx

Jazzing up the 1920s: Harley Foxx

FB: Harley Foxx
IG: harleyfoxxburlesque

Hello friends,

As you know, we are taking Decadent: 100 Years of Burlesque to Boston next month, so we thought we’d take a moment to introduce you to the fabulous performers who will be joining us.

First up, meet Harley Foxx, who will rep the 1920s. This swing and jazz aficionado shares some of her favorite things about this glamorous decade, including her love for the iconic Josephine Baker.

1. What is your favorite thing about the 1920s?
My favorite thing about this era is defined by the music and the dancing. My mother used to play Duke Ellington and Count Basie records, and she sang Billie Holiday around our house. As I got older I started swing dancing and it became even more infused into my soul.

I really love listening to “hot jazz” music, and those old syncopated rhythms. I have gradually been building this collection of swing music and I am totally amazed and humbled by the never-ending wealth of great music just waiting to be heard.

But aside from that, as a DJ I like to play whatever I think will keep people dancing – whether it’s chunky, up-tempo, or even contemporary swing. Some of my favorite artists include the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Chick Webb, Django Reinhardt, Mildred Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Fats Waller (of course), Bob Crosby, as well as Wingy Manone. My love for both the music and dance are something that I try to share with everyone in my life.

Photo: Veronica Tays

2. If you could have drinks/dinner with any person from that era, real or fictional, who would it be?
I would love to sit down with the great Josephine Baker.

She had an independent spirit and had to learn to provide for herself and make her own way. This free and bold behavior led her to perform across the country and eventually she was able to sashay away to the Paris stage during the 1920s.

She was confident in her abilities and performed with a comic, yet sensual appeal that took Europe by storm. She had a perfect blend and I try to embody her character and flair in some of my pieces. Baker went on to perform and choreograph for 50 years in Europe.

Although racism in the States often restricted her from gaining the same fame at home as she did abroad, Baker fought segregation through organizations like NAACP. I would love to chat with her about where we are now in entertainment, burlesque and politics. Things are different from the 1920’s but I definitely feel like she would be a great mentor and be able to offer some insight and guidance.

Photo: Mandi Martini

3. Is there anyone from today you think embodies the idea of the 1920s?
Beyoncé is a great pop superstar who isn’t afraid of celebrating black brilliance and has often given nods to the black women performers who’ve inspired her. Beyoncé has paid tribute to Tina Turner and in 2006, she celebrated Jospehine Baker.

Beyoncé’s affinity for Baker comes as no surprise. Baker’s control of her art and her image were unprecedented for her time. Baker, a black woman beloved by white audiences, built her name by working within the status quo to transgress social boundaries. In her later life she became a civil rights activist.

Beyoncé does the same. Beyonce has also been able to navigate a space that tended to exclude (or at the very least limit) black women for a long time. Mainstream music and pop music specifically. Her album Formation made a lot of people realize how political and “woke” Beyoncé is. But she has always given nods in her music and videos on where she stands, her support to the artists who came before her, and her black culture.

Josephine baker and Beyoncé are two artists I love and admire and the fact it’s their blackness that makes them unique. I have found I don’t have to separate the blackness from the art. If you want to participate, indulge, be entertained, you must acknowledge black lives and black issues in the process. That is what they do and what I hope to do too.

Come see Harley and the rest of our magical lineup on October 7 at The Rockwell, 255 Elm Street, Somerville, MA, 02144. Doors open at 9:30. A portion of proceeds will benefit The Hispanic Federation to help with hurricane and earthquake relief.



Throwback Thursday: Burlesque in the 1920s

Throwback Thursday: Burlesque in the 1920s

Hi friends! It’s Roaring Twenties week at LFF, so let’s learn a little about what burlesque was like in the Jazz Age.

Well, actually, we need to start a little further back.

Up until the 1920s, burlesque was more about comedy and satire than striptease, owing some of its roots to vaudeville and minstrel shows.

Lydia Thompson. Nice stems.

In 1868, Lydia Thompson who was to become known as the “First Lady of Burlesque,” brought her troupe the British Blondes to America. They didn’t strip, but showed off their legs in tights, which was pretty racy for those uptight Victorians.

By about 1905, there was a system in place in which burlesque performers traveled the country in geographically based “wheels,” or circuits, putting on vaudeville-style variety shows that included singers, dancers and comedians. At the time, comedy was the main attraction and some really famous names – like Jackie Gleason, Milton Berle, Bob Hope – owe their beginnings to burlesque.

Little Egypt does the hoochie-coochie (and presumably turns herself around)

In the 1920s, movies began to steal audiences, so enterprising theater owners, like NYC’s Minsky Brothers, began introducing striptease to get butts in seats. The striptease is said to harken back to a performance by “Little Egypt” who did the “hoochie-coochie” at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The Minsky Brothers are generally credited with bringing striptease “out of the backrooms and into the theaters.” Under their tutelage and that of Florenz Ziegfield and his elaborate Paris-inspired Follies, the 1920s and ’30s became known as the golden age of burlesque.

Here are some stars of the era:

Josephine Baker

In the 1920s, American Josephine Baker took Paris by storm as part of the legendary Folies Bergère reviews and became a symbol of the Jazz Age after appearing in a girdle of bananas. Baker was “celebrated by all of the great artists and intellectuals of the era, with various circles dubbing her the ‘Black Pearl,’ the ‘Bronze Venus,’ as well as the ‘Creole Goddess.'” She fought for the French Resistance during WWII and later became a civil rights activist, even speaking at the March on Washington with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963.

Fanny Brice

Fanny Brice, made famous by Barbra Streisand in the 1963 Broadway musical Funny Girl, dropped out of school in 1908 to join a burlesque review. In 1910, she joined the Ziegfield Follies for the first time, performing for two years. She rejoined it in 1921 and danced with them through the 1930s. From the 1930s until her 1951 death, Brice performed on radio as a bratty toddler named Snooks in the eponymous “Baby Snook Show,” which sounds like something that should make us grateful we have Netflix.

Carrie Finnell

Carrie Finnell claims to have invented the nipple tassel, which survives to this day as a burlesque necessity (burlesque-ity?). Using just her magnificent mammaries, Finnell could supposedly swing not just tassels, but bells and lights as well. Whutt??

According to burlexe.com, she also:

is credited with talking Gypsy Rose Lee into peeling on stage. She beat Mae West in a strip-off. She’s also said to have invented the nipple tassel. Definitely a woman worth remembering.

Carrie Finnell (What is she even doing?)

As you can see, the history of burlesque is complex and fascinating and worth looking into much deeper than we can here. If you want to learn more, come back next week when we examine burlesque of the ’30s and check out these sources below:






(And if you really like history, stay tuned for ticket info for our fabulous April 22 show, Decadent: 100 Years of Burlesque.)

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