Monday, August 15, 2016

Paul Robeson

One of the great American characters that created the land of the free that we live in is Paul Robeson. We may not agree with everything that he believed in, but we don't come from his circumstances either.

According to, "He was the son of a former slave, born and raised during a period of segregation, lynching, and open racism. He earned a four-year scholarship to Rutgers University, making him the third African American to attend the school. There he was a member of the prestigious Cap and Skull Honor Society, played four varsity sports (baseball, football, basketball, and track), won speech and debate tournaments, and managed to graduate valedictorian of his class. After graduation, Robeson applied his athletic abilities to a short career in professional football. Aside from his prowess on the gridiron, he earned a law degree and changed the direction of his career. His legal career was cut short, however, after a secretary refused to take dictation from him solely because of the color of his skin. He left law and turned to his childhood love of acting and singing. Robeson starred in Shakespeare's Othello, the musical Showboat, and films such as Jericho and Proud Valley. He was one of the top performers of his time, earning more money than many white entertainers. His concert career spanned the globe: Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, London, Moscow, New York, and Nairobi.

Robeson's travels opened his awareness to the universality of human suffering and oppression. He began to use his rich bass voice to speak out for independence, freedom, and equality for all people. He believed that artists should use their talents and exposure to aid causes around the world. "The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice," he said. This philosophy drove Robeson to Spain during the civil war, to Africa to promote self-determination, to India to aid in the independence movement, to London to fight for labor rights, and to the Soviet Union to promote anti-fascism. It was in the Soviet Union where he felt that people were treated equally. He could eat in any restaurant and walk through the front doors of hotels, but in his own country he faced discrimination and racism everywhere he went."

Somehow, though, he never left the mark on history that he deserved. According to, "Robeson published his biography, Here I Stand, in 1958, the same year that he won the right to have his passport reinstated. Robeson again traveled internationally and received a number of accolades for his work, but damage had been done, as he experienced debilitating depression and related health problems. Robeson and his family returned to the United States in 1963. After Eslanda's death in 1965, the artist lived with his sister. Robeson died from a stroke on January 23, 1976, at the age of 77, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania."

Or, as puts it, "To celebrate, Robeson gave his first New York concert in a decade at a sold-out Carnegie Hall. But the years of struggle had taken a personal and professional toll. Negative public response and the ban on his travel led to the demise of his career. Before the 1950s, Robeson was one of the world's most famous entertainers and beloved American heroes--once being named "Man of the Year" by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Despite all his accomplishments, Paul Robeson remains virtually ignored in American textbooks and history."

Take a minute to listen to his version of Old man river from Showboat:

Paul would have loved SANS Rocky Mountain 2017 with so many talented and committed instructors.

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