Josephine Baker Performs at Copa City Club, Miami Beach

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Norman Giller, the prolific MiMo architect and Norman Bel Geddes, the renowned industrial and theatrical set designer were commissioned by Murray Weinger to design the Copa City nightclub at 1301 Dade Blvd. Weinger’s previous popular club the Copa Cabana, that opened in 1944, was located on the same site but had suffered a total loss after a severe fire burned it down in June 1948.

Weinger’s previous popular club the Copa Cabana, opened in 1944, was located at 1301 Dade Blvd but suffered a total loss after a severe fire burned it down in 1948.

The new structure was adapted as a radio and television studio, department store, and theater. Copa City opened on December 23, 1948 to national acclaim. An engineering and design marvel, the building’s suspended roof structure allowed for the construction of floor-to-ceiling curved walls of plate glass, manufactured to Geddes’s specifications, creating the impression of vast openness.

Above: Plan, credit: Giller & Giller Archives
Norman Giller, MiMo architect and Norman Bel Geddes, industrial and theatrical set designer were commissioned by Murray Weinger to design the Copa City nightclub at 1301 Dade Blvd; photo courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center Archives.

In 1950, Josephine Baker, known for decades as a successful black singer and dancer in Paris & Cuba, was offered a very large sum of money to perform at the glitzy Copa City Club. She refused the offer unless Murray Weinger agreed to disavow the current local segregation laws and allow black guests to see her show alongside white guests.

After much negotiation, the owner offered a contract with this unprecedented special provision: “It is understood and agreed between both parties that patrons are to be admitted regardless of race, color and creed”. She then made sure the audience would be integrated by flying in black and white celebrities from New York for her opening. On January 10, 1951, the singer’s show in Miami Beach was a huge success. Afterwards, future contracts for her show with the same provision were signed throughout the United States.

Josephine Baker in her Banana Dance costume; circa 1920s.

Miami Beach is proud of this heritage, being the place where Josephine Baker succeeded for the first time in her native country to perform for a non-segregated audience at the Copa City Club. This event represented a major breakthrough for the communities of the South, as Ms. Baker used her unprecedented victory to convince other theaters to welcome inclusive audiences as well. On November 30th, 2021, she will be the first Black woman who remains will be placed at the Panthéon in Paris, a mausoleum for illustrious French and Humanist figures.

On Sunday November 28th, 2021, there will be a free event from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the National Hotel, 1677 Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, called “Miami Celebrates Josephine Baker”; sponsored by the Consulate General of France in Miami.

Visit their Eventbrite Page to register: click here.

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