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Dream role Ruth Negga to play legendary jazz singer and activist Josephine Baker in new TV series

Playing a famous singer will be nothing new to the Limerick-raised actress as she once portrayed Shirley Bassey in the 2011 BBC production Shirley to widespread acclaim.

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Ruth Negga

Ruth Negga

Ruth Negga

Ruth Negga is to star as legendary jazz singer Josephine Baker in a new TV series.

The 39-year-old Loving actress will portray the entertainer and civil rights activist in the drama series, Josephine, which she will also be an executive producer on.

Baker was one of the most influential female singers of the 20th century after shooting to fame in the Jazz Age.

ABC Signature have signed up the former Love/Hate star who is currently winning rave reviews in the film Passing, in which she plays a black woman pretending to be white in 1920s New York.

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Ruth Negga stars in new movie 'Passing' - one of the most anticipated flicks at the Sundance Film Festival

Ruth Negga stars in new movie 'Passing' - one of the most anticipated flicks at the Sundance Film Festival

Ruth Negga stars in new movie 'Passing' - one of the most anticipated flicks at the Sundance Film Festival

Playing a famous singer will be nothing new to the Limerick-raised actress as she once portrayed Shirley Bassey in the 2011 BBC production Shirley to widespread acclaim. The part earned her an IFTA Award.

Written by Dee Harris-Lawrence and directed by Millicent Shelton (30 Rock), Josephine promises to be “a raw and unflinching look at the force of nature that was Josephine Baker, the biggest Black female artist of her time.”

Showbiz website Deadline says: “From international superstar and decorated WWII spy, to civil rights activist and flawed mother, Josephine delves into the raw talent, sexual fluidity, struggles and bold life of an icon.”

Negga, Harris-Lawrence and Shelton executive produce with The Springhill Company.

Born in Missouri in 1906, Baker started her career at 15 when she appeared onstage in several New York shows.

At 19, she moved to France, which would become her adopted home country.

There, she almost immediately found success as one of Europe’s most popular and highest-paid performers.

Early on, she was renowned as a dancer, and was among the most celebrated performers to headline the revues of the Folies Bergère in Paris.

She won the admiration of the likes of Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and E.E. Cummings, earning herself nicknames like “Black Venus” and “Black Pearl.”

Baker sang professionally for the first time in 1930, and several years later landed film roles as a singer in Zou-Zou and Princess Tam-Tam.

Baker worked for the French Resistance during World War II, and during the 1950s and ’60s devoted herself to fighting segregation and racism in the United States.

Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences in the U.S. and had an active role in the civil rights movement.

She was a speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, and in 1968, she was offered unofficial leadership in the movement in the U.S. by Coretta Scott King, following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

She declined the offer out of concern for the welfare of her children. Just two years after making a comeback to the stage, Baker died of a cerebral haemorrhage on April 12, 1975, and was buried with military honours.

Decades later, Baker’s life and work continues to influence top entertainment figures such as Beyoncé, who has portrayed her on various occasions.

Baker also was portrayed by Diana Ross on Broadway and television in An Evening with Diana Ross, by Karine Plantadit in the biopic Frida and by Cush Jumbo in her debut play Josephine and I.

In HBO’s 1991 biopic, The Josephine Baker Story, Baker was played by Lynn Whitfield, who won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special, becoming the first Black actress to win the category.

Baker was recently discovered by a new generation through HBO’s very influential 2020 series Lovecraft Country, which featured the American-born French entertainer, played by Carra Patterson.

Also last year, Studiocanal, CPB Films and Leyland Films announced that they are developing an English-language drama series about Baker.

The TV series is expected to boost Negga – who was nominated for an Oscar for Loving – even further up the A-list ladder.

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