Cabaret, a French invention, reached its zenith in Paris at the Moulin Rouge in the 1890s. At the same time a Gallic version of Music Hall flourished, followed in the new century by Revue. Local songwriters like Maurice Yvain established the typical chanson, gritty and yet melodic. Maurice Chevalier, raised in poverty, rapidly became a star as the onstage and offstage beau of cabaret queen Mistinguett at the Folies Bergere where the chorus girls pranced in next-to-nothing. While Mistinguett specialized in melodramatic songs of violent love (“Mon Homme”), Chevalier, after being exposed to American rag and jazz during the war, took to the style, stamping the American imports with his exaggerated Parisian street accent and winking macho suggestiveness. Hollywood soon called for his worldly-wise boulevardier charm. Meanwhile Josephine Baker and other black jazz singers had crossed over to wow Paris with their spicy and sensual offerings. Baker, sensibly, learned to sing in French, thus honoring the cabaret tradition, and even out-did the dance stunts of the naughty ladies at the Folies Bergere.
But for American expatriates (seemingly disembarking by the hour) in search of a Paris relatively unspoiled by the incursions of hot jazz, blues and the ubiquitous foxtrot, the place to be was dark, dingy and exciting, cultural miles away from the ritzy revues and cabarets: At the Bal Musettes were tough and rough ouvrier rascals hurling their women partners across the floor in frenzied waltzes and torrid tangos to the native strain of wet accordion and springy banjo, now augmented with a wobbly saxophone. This was a France of resistance to America, off-limits to tourists, irresistible to slumming expats