"My name is Phylicia Allen. It gives me great honor to dedicate this album to the first black female international star, Miss Josephine Baker. May her spirit live forever."
So begins this tribute to the great Josephine Baker by the future "Cosby Show" star. This stirring introduction leads immediately into a disco explosion that Baker would, uh, be proud of, yeah, of course, right?
They just don't make ‘em like this anymore literally, a disco concept album about Josephine Baker, telling her story in song with background vocals by the Village People and the Ritchie Family. To me, that's an all-star extravaganza the likes of which we shall never see again.
You just have to marvel at Jacques Morali and his quixotic disco universe. He was probably like, "Phylicia, yes, you are bountiful talented and gorgeous. We must make tribute to Jospehine Baker, the original disco superstar." Morali and Victor Willis from the V-People composed most of the songs, and they are very much in the style of the great Casablanca classics, with ultra catchy pop melodies and male chorus responses everywhere.
There's a bit more of a ragtime flavor to this album, but it's not overly kitschy, um, at least beyond the fact that it's a disco concept album about Josephine Baker sung in the first-person by the future Phylicia Rashad.
If pushed, I'd probably have to acknowledge that Morali's ultragay disco pop is one of my favorite styles of music, meaning I get about as much enjoyment out of an album like Josephine Superstar as, say, a good ol' elitist Ornette Coleman album or any of my other declared favorites. This LP really should have been terrible at best, but you just "can't stop" the infectious fun when a Morali production hits the turntable.
Side 1 traces Baker's journey to international stardom, while Side 2 tackles her downfall, with nearly the same propulsive energy. "Saint Louis" ought to have been included on the Casablanca box set; it's a great single (um, was there a single off this album?) that sits well next to stuff like "San Francisco" and "Fire Island" by the V-People, but with a bit less amyl nitrate perfuming the air.
The epic-like "Colors" and tearjerkin' "Don't Cry Mommy" close things out on the scale of a big cheesy one-woman show. I wonder if Jacques intended this for Eartha Kitt. And: I wonder how often Phylicia breaks this out to play for guests probably not much more than I do.
Review by Craig Menstruation