R.I.P. Jenny Alpha, 1910–2010

by Nicholas Laughlin on September 9, 2010

Jenny Alpha

Jenny Alpha, Martiniquan singer and “grande dame de la culture créole,” died on Wednesday 8 September in Paris.

The RFI website posted a short obituary:

A familiar figure in French jazz clubs, Alpha crossed paths with actress Josephine Baker and musician Duke Ellington. After the Second World War, she campaigned for recognition of Creole culture, at a time when the poets and activists Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor were fighting for the promotion of black conciousness.

Originally from the French overseas territory of Martinique, Alpha moved to Paris in 1929 to become a teacher. She soon started singing bossa nova in French cabarets and music halls.

In a tribute to Alpha, French Minister of Culture Frédéric Mitterrand said that “as Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sedar Senghor had become advocates of negritude, she devoted all her energy and talent to the defense and recognition of Creole culture.”

She continued to perform well into her hundredth decade, appearing on stage in a production of The Cherry Orchard when she was ninety-four, and releasing her most recent album, La sérénade du muguet, at ninety-eight.

This five-minute documentary was created earlier this year to mark Alpha’s hundredth birthday:

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