Paul Robeson

  • American

Renaissance Man

Paul Robeson was renowned for his rich baritone voice and acting ability, but he suffered from debilitating depression and spent the last 15 years of his life out of the public eye. - AsNotedIn


Y/M/D Description Association Composition Place Locale Food Event
Y/M/D Description Association Composition Place Locale Food Event
Home Paul Robeson House Philadelphia
1898/04/09 Paul LeRoy Robeson is born at 110 Witherspoon St (built c 1870). He was the son of a former slave, the Reverend William Robeson of the Witherspoon Street Church, and Maria Louisa Bustill Robeson. Born Princeton Historic District Princeton
1921/05/23 'Shuffle Along' premieres, runs for 504 performances at the Cort 63rd Street Theatre, 22 W 63rd St, NYC (razed), Florence Mills stared August 1921 to May 1922 Chorus Shuffle Along
1929/11/05 Baritone Paul Robeson makes his Carnegie Hall debut, his first of a dozen appearances at the Hall that span nearly three decades. Performer Carnegie Hall New York City
1930/00/00 Paul Robeson song recital Singer Brooklyn Academy of Music New York City
1936/05/17 "Show Boat", music by Jerome Kern, is released Actor Show Boat
1939/00/00 Paul Robeson's home 1939-1941 Home 555 Edgecombe Avenue New York City
1952/05/18 Paul Robeson's first concert at US-Canadian border Singer Peace Arch Blaine Robeson Peace Arch Concerts
1953/08/16 Paul Robeson's second concert at US-Canadian border Singer Peace Arch Blaine Robeson Peace Arch Concerts
1956/06/12 Paul Robeson called before HUAC for refusing to sign an affidavit that he was not a Communist. Victim House Un-American Activities Hearings


Paul Robeson was a gifted student and athlete while attending Rutgers University in New Jersey. He was a brilliant Phi Beta Kappa student, two time All American football player (1917-1918), and won honors in debating and oratory. He graduated from Columbia Law School but gave up law to pursue a career in singing and acting. Robeson performed on Broadway, and is noted for his leading roles in Othello and Eugene O'Neill's play, Emperor Jones, and his stunning rendition of the song "Ole Man River" in the musical Showboat. In 1934, he visited the Soviet Union, where he felt fully accepted as a black artist. During World War II, he entertained troops at the front and sang battle songs on the radio. Despite his war efforts, he was labeled "subversive" by McCarthyites, who were wary of his earlier trip to the Soviet Union, his support of the 1947 St. Louis picketing against segregation of black actors and a Panama effort to organize the mostly-black Panamanian workers. Robeson began receiving death threats from the Ku Klux Klan while campaigning for the Progressive Party candidate in the 1948 presidential election. When he publicly opposed the Cold War, even the national secretary of the NAACP questioned his loyalty as an American. Connecticut state officials also went to court to prevent him from visiting his family home in Enfield. Undaunted, Robeson formally denounced the action and on August 27 1949, traveled to Peekskill, New York, to sing before a group of African American and Jewish trade unionists. A KKK-led riot canceled the concert but Robeson returned the following week with 25000 supporters. A "human wall" protected Robeson while he sang, though afterwards many of the concert goers were ambushed and beaten while local police and state troopers stood by.

In March 1950, NBC barred Robeson from appearing on a television show with Eleanor Roosevelt. Concert halls closed their doors to him, and his records began to disappear from stores. After eight years, an international outcry, and the Supreme Court's reversal of the same situation for the artist Rockwell Kent in 1958, Robeson won.

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. - NPS

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