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Paul Robeson For Beginners by Paul Von Blum
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Paul Robeson For Beginners

by Paul Von Blum

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Who was Paul Robeson? He was a lot more than just the singer of "Ol' Man River."

A native of Princeton, NJ, Robeson received a four-year athletic scholarship to Rutgers College. He was twice named All-American in football, and also played basketball, baseball and track. Graduating as class Valedictorian (an member of Phi Beta Kappa), Robeson attended, and graduated from, Columbia Law School. His attempt at a legal career did not go well. Robeson continued to play semi-pro football on the weekends, and tried his luck as a stage actor.

He became a huge star on the stage, including almost 300 performances as Shakespeare's Othello. Robeson also became a world-famous concert singer. He couldn't help but notice that during trips to Europe, especially the Soviet Union, he was treated much better than he had ever been treated in America. From the 1920's through the 1940's, Robeson made about a dozen films, including a couple of silent films. On the positive side, audiences could actually see a strong, intelligent black man in the lead role. On the negative side, Robeson's performance was usually the best part of the film. It was otherwise filled with clownish stereotypes about blacks. In frustration, Robeson walked away from Hollywood.

Robeson was not afraid to speak out on political issues, ranging from the Spanish Civil War of the 1930's, to racism in America, to opposition to the Vietnam War. Such activities made him a victim of the 1950's Blacklist, along with having his passport seized. This, plus his wife's diagnosis of terminal cancer, brought on a huge bout of depression. When he was next allowed to travel overseas, the "magic" was gone. There was time in a sanitarium, and a suicide attempt. For the last dozen or so years of his life, he lived quietly with his sister in Philadelphia, and saw very few people.

This is a wonderful book. Robeson's erasure from 20th century history should be on the level of a national embarrassment. This book will start to correct it. It is very highly recommended for everyone. ( )
  plappen | Jan 8, 2015 |
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