Monday, April 09, 2018

Music Monday ~ Remembering Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson, born this day, 9 April, in 1898, was one of the greats, a true supporter of the workers of the whole world, including the Welsh and Scottish miners of the UK, with whom he felt deep connection.

Happy Birthday Paul Robeson! Yes, the struggles go on!

Brilliant and multi-gifted, Paul Robeson gained prominence as athlete, lawyer, concert singer, actor, and social activist. Born to an African-American minister and his wife in Princeton, New Jersey. Robeson's mother died when he was just 6 years old. The family underwent difficult economic times when their father resigned from his ministry position because of pressure by the white financial supporters of the church. After nine years of low paying work, Robeson Snr. accepted appointment to the parsonage of another church. Paul attended New Jersey schools, and by high school had proven himself an outstanding student and athlete. He won a four-year scholarship to Rutgers, despite efforts by the high school principal to prevent him from taking the qualifying exam.

Because he was excluded from living at the Rutgers dormitory, Robeson lived with a black family during his college years. His athletic talent earned him a place on the school’s football team, where he had to overcome physical assaults by teammates in attempts to keep him off the team. When the team travelled, he roomed with the coach, rather than members of the team. By the end of his college years, he attained 14 varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball, discus, shotput and javelin. He also excelled in other college activities, becoming a prize-winning debater, and a glee club member. Robeson’s academic achievements culminated in his nomination and acceptance into the Phi Beta Kappa Society and Rutgers’ honor society, Cap and Skull. At graduation, his classmates selected him as class valedictorian. In his valedictorian address, he called upon his classmates to work for equality for all Americans.

After graduating from Rutgers, Robeson entered Columbia University Law School, supporting himself by working as a professional football player, a job as a postal worker, positions in athletic coaching, and acting jobs. Although he attained his law degree, Robeson pursued a career as a performer because the law firm where he was hired barred his representation of clients.

Paul starred in several theater performances, and rose to prominence in the Harlem Renaissance movement. With his powerful baritone voice, he transitioned from acting to concert vocalist, opening in solo concerts by the mid-1920s.

Making his home base in London, he associated with many followers of socialist thought, including George Bernard Shaw. He toured the United States and Europe extensively as a concert performer.

When World War II began, he returned to the United States, with a commitment to overcoming fascism. Despite his political statements, Robeson remained a popular performer. However, after the war ended and the red-baiting McCarthy era evolved, Robeson became target of various government probes. He announced in 1947 that he would retire from his career as a concert performer to devote his time to overcoming racism and fascism.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Paul Robeson continued his political activities, which were intensively scrutinized by the U.S. government. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover declared him a national security threat, and Robeson’s passport was cancelled. This caused international protest. He regained his right to travel eight years later. He returned to Europe, and made journeys to the Soviet Union and Africa. After extensive travels, he expressed interest in returning to the United States to join the Civil Rights Movement.

Paul Robeson died in January 1976, he left a legacy as an extraordinarily gifted actor, singer, and political activist.

Here's a rendition by Paul that I'd not heard before - "Mood Indigo" music composed by Duke Ellington and Barney Bigard with lyrics by Irving Mills.

And...his tribute to the Welsh miners


Wisewebwoman said...

Wonderful visionary. Played at the Opera House in Cork.


Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~ Did he? I do so admire his globe trotting and sincere fellowship with those of different nations and ethnicities.