Last week we profiled Maude Russell and, in the process, dropped the name of Evelyn Anderson, another dancer who often shared the spotlight with Josephine Baker. This being the last week in the celebration of Women’s History Month, we review the life and legacy of the beautiful Ms. Anderson, and her graceful movements on the stage.
Her obituary was published in The New York Times on Nov. 23, 1994, in a short profile by Frank Prial. He cited that she was the last surviving member of the troupe that danced with Baker in the 1920s in Paris as part of “Le Revue Negre.” Anderson, he wrote, died on Oct. 29 at Misericordia Hospital in Philadelphia. The cause of death was pneumonia, and she was 87. Accompanying the notice is a photo of the gorgeous Ms. Anderson and given to the paper from the Jean-Claude Collection.
That the photo would come from Jean-Claude’s collection was no surprise since he had compiled a large archive on his mother and her associates. And he never missed a moment to discuss Russell and Anderson when talking about those glorious moments in Paris when they captivated audiences night after night with their dances and theatrical routines.
As Prial notes in his piece in the Times, Anderson was 18 and had been performing with Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, probably in “Shuffle Along,” when she was recruited to travel to Paris in a yet unnamed troupe. There may be a bit of discrepancy on just where Anderson was working before joining the Revue. She told Jean-Claude that she and Mabel Hopkins, Bea Foote, and Marguerite Ricks were all working together at a cabaret in Asbury Park when they were hired. Jean-Claude has a rather extensive account of how the troupe was assembled and the motivations of Mrs. Caroline [Dudley] Reagan, as she searched for the right band and lead singer and dancer for her troupe to Paris. According to Prial, Caroline Dudley [Reagan] was a wealthy white woman from Chicago, and sought at first to build the troupe around Florence Mills as the star or the energetic Maude de Forest, but Josephine became the star after she was depicted in posters promoting “Le Revue Negre.” The troupe was all set to appear in Berlin and Moscow after the Paris engagement but was disrupted when Baker signed a contract with the Folies Bergère.
In an interview with Jean-Claude, Anderson recounted those days in Paris. “I was 18 years old,” she said, “and it was great to be on stage and in France.” Later in the conversation she recounted a number of incidents with the volcanic Baker, including one in which she rushed to the balcony to leap after being rejected by a man she desired. Curiously, during this period, there was another troupe called the Southern Delights, which has mentioned Anderson as being a member. It starred Honey Boy Thompson, Maud De Forest, and Miss King-Reavis.
Anderson was among a few of the performers in the troupe who chose to remain in Paris and for the next 15 years she was featured at various clubs and nightspots in Paris and other parts of Europe. In fact, she was starring in the Netherlands and performing in a cabaret in The Hague when World War II broke out. When the Germans occupied the Netherlands, she, along with her partner Harry Watkins and others were deported, Jean-Claude disclosed in his biography “The Hungry Heart” with Chris Chase about the mother who adopted him. She recalled that experience with Jean-Claude, telling him what she told her partner, Watkins, after the Germans arrived. “If you see a dark cloud passing by, you’ll know it’s me running.”
She and the others were returned to the States in 1943 in a prisoner exchange arrangement and a year later Anderson married Robert Robbins, an orchestral conductor, who resided in the Philadelphia area. And she was survived by two brothers.