Why I Sing Robeson
Paul LeRoy Bustill Robeson
Born: April 9, 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey, USA
Died: January 23, 1976 (age 77) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
- Graduate of Columbia University School of Law.
- Elected Valedictorian of his senior class at Rutgers, 1919.
- Played football professionally for three years in the APFL (American Professional Football League) NFL 1920-1922.
- Elected to Phi Beta Kappa at Rutgers in 1919.
- Inducted into the Rutgers Football - NFL Hall of Fame.
- Inducted into the National College Football Hall of Fame.
- Robeson was twice Named All-American Football Player for Rutgers at End, in 1917 and 1918.
- Robeson was only the third black person to attend Rutgers University, the state university of New Jersey.
- Robeson was the first black person to play football for Rutgers University.
- relationship with Fredi Washington. They appeared in one film together, The Emperor Jones (1933).
- Was able to speak and write in over 20 languages.
- In 1942, said he wouldn't make any more films until there were better roles for blacks.
- According to the biography written by his son, Paul Robeson Jr., he had a long-term extramarital
- In 1925, he sang the first concert recital consisting solely of black spirituals, at the Greenwich Village Theatre in New York.
- In 1952 and 1953 he sang in defiance of the U.S. government in what is now called "The Peace Arch Concerts." These concerts, attended by over 40,000 people, are now available on CD and feature Robeson's only political speeches on record along with his signature song, "Old Man River."
A Retrospective on Paul Robeson
The epitome of the 20th-century Renaissance man, Paul Robeson was an exceptional athlete, actor, singer, cultural scholar, author, and political activist. His talents made him a revered man of his time, yet his radical political beliefs all but erased him from popular history. Every attempt was made to silence and discredit him. Of this time, Lawrence Brown, writer and long-time colleague of Robeson, states: “Paul Robeson was the most persecuted, the most ostracized, the most condemned black man in America, then or ever.” Robeson believed fate had drawn him to the "untrodden path" of drama and stressed the only "original" culture was African American culture. He believed that the measure of a culture can be found in its artistic contributions, while reinforcing and uplifting the importance of the culture of ancient Africa.
To this day, Paul Robeson’s many accomplishments remain eclipsed by the propaganda of those who sought to silence his voice. His role as a spokesman for civil rights here in the United States and around the world remains relatively unknown. Though a handful of movies and recordings are still available, they are a dismal testament to one of the great Americans of the twentieth century.
If we are to remember Paul Robeson for anything, it should be for the fight and the courage and the dignity with which he struggled for his own personal voice and for the rights of all people. In 1937, Robeson wrote, "the artist must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery. I have made my choice. I have no alternative." He continued this fight for freedom, both political and artistic, until his death in 1976. Today, more than one hundred years after his birth, Robeson is just beginning to receive recognition for his contributions to the civil rights movement.
A Word From Lawrence
Performing artist Lawrence Beamen made his directorial debut with this adaptation of the life and times of Paul Robeson as it abridges the original transcript from the 1956 hearing conducted by the House on Un-American Activity and ups the solemnity with poignant renditions of the healing balm of music performed around the world by Robeson. The power and potency of “From Renaissance to Struggle of Paul Robeson” is in the profound relevance to life’s continuum and the essential requirement for personal dignity, individual equality and justice for all.
Beamen, in this production, strives to give voice to a legacy that was distorted and obscured when it was first spoken in this country and bring it to significance in the present day and time. It is a thread, woven into the fabric of life creating an intricate, interdependent foundation that may remain hidden, without voice, lest the wisdom gained through decades of difficult learning remain in a silent abyss. The intention in taking this path, giving voice to the contributions of unsung individuals, is about continuing the legacy, the interconnection across time, learning from the past, living in the present, and building for the future.Beamen says it is his hope that Unsung Human Productions will transcend nuances of stereotype and encourage awareness and thinking about legacies, no matter what race or ethnicity or age or state of health or unique circumstance, one may take stock – of accomplishments and disappointments - that have been passed from one generation to the next, and have given shape and meaning to the breadth of life. From Beamen’s notes: I was twenty two years old when my mentor and vocal teacher, educator Johnny Land, told me about Paul Robeson - his character, his life’s trials and tribulation. I was captivated, and began to immerse myself in the study of his life and times. I was impressed by his accomplishments during an era in this country when African Americans were disenfranchised infants born into their newfound freedom. Robeson maintained the integrity of his beliefs throughout his life. He demeaned himself for no one and stood for those who were degraded. I have come to recognize the weight of such an enormous responsibility. I can’t stand in anybody else’s shoes and nobody can stand in mine. I can embrace the values, humbleness, steadfast, perseverance, intelligence, boldness, discipline, togetherness, unity, and pass them on by my example, in my legacy.