Posted on 08/14/2013

Photo taken on August  1, 1934

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African American Woman
Myrtle Watkins
circa 1930s

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Photo replaced on January 25, 2014
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Myrtle Watkins also known as Paquita

Myrtle Watkins also known as Paquita
In 1928 Myrtle Watkins from Baltimore, Maryland was a member of the cast of Blackbirds. By 1930, she was a dancer in Paris, one of the scores of African-American performers who had moved to Europe to escape the racism of the US and to trade on the French fascination for “negro” culture.

Through the 1930s, African-American newspapers such as the Defender and the Afro-American reported Myrtle Watkins’ movements through Europe. She was in France, Belgium and Romania, among other places. In 1934, for instance, the Chicago Defender reported from Paris that the colourful African-American hostess Ada “Bricktop” Smith had postponed the opening of her new cabaret on rue Pigalle pending the arrival from Spain of Watkins, who “is appropriately publicized on this continent…as the world’s most fascinating entertainer."

One report in the Afro-American described her as the Josephine Baker of Spain. “Miss Watkins, who is a very good dancer, with plenty of pep, is pretty and has a shapely figure,” it said. “She has been making conquests in high society and on her string is the marquis of one of Spain’s bluest blue bloods. She lives at the Florida, one of the best hotels in the city, has a fine roadster, records for Spanish gramophone and radio, and entertains at one of the leading cabarets.” That experience, perhaps, provided her with material to help her metamorphose from Myrtle into Paquita.

Sometime in the late 1930s she started performing Latin American music under the name Paquita, along with her husband, a Mexican violinist Samuel Zarate.

Between November 1941 and December 1942, Paquita and Zarate cut more than a dozen discs in India, backed by African American pianist Teddy Weatherford.

Advertisement in 1958 boasts that Zarate and Paquita were “widely known as concert artists and nightclub entertainers [and] are also known as composers and recording artists”. They had evidently released a religious album “containing hymns and prayers embracing the faith of all people”. The ad said that the record was “receiving favorable comment from all who have heard it and those who already have it in their homes say it should be in all homes." Other Billboard articles suggest that they spent the 1950s as performers at variety shows in the U.S that featured jugglers and magicians, in addition to musicians.

The Times of India place them in Bombay in the winter of 1941, performing at the Taj Mahal. They also made recordings in Calcutta later that year.

It seems she switched from Myrtle Watkins and Paquita during her career and finally settling on going by Paquita. Myrtle and her husband later resided in Portland, Oregon.

Bio/Photo: Taj Mahal Foxtrot: The Story of Bombay's Jazz Age, by Naresh Fernandes

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Here is a link to two songs from Myrtle/Paquita and her husband Zarate:

St. Louis Blues

South American Way
2 years ago. Edited 2 years ago.