Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Paul Robeson

Thrift-stores are good for more than just clothes.  My favorite store now carries old vinyl records.

While there last week, I leafed through the vinyl collection and spotted an early Paul Robeson album.  I grabbed and bought it for only a dollar.  While checking out, the cashier (an African-American woman slightly older than me) got excited:  "Paul Robeson!" she exclaimed.  "He's a part of history!"  She called over to the other cashiers (young women) and asked them if they knew Robeson.  None did.  She turned to me with disappointment and said, "These kids, they don't know their history."  I sympathized and told her everyone should know Robeson's story.

Do you know who Paul Robeson is?

Let me start by saying that he had one of the most beautiful voices ever heard.  He was a singer whose vocal talent was extraordinary.  You may have heard Paul's voice and not known it was him -- his rendition of "Ol' Man River" from the musical "Show Boat" is legendary.

Sadly, Robeson's story is tragic.  Born at the beginning of the last century, Paul performed to great acclaim on stage and in movies.  He was internationally famous.  But he had strong political beliefs and became active in the civil rights movement.  These beliefs made powerful forces organize against him.  He was investigated by the government during the disgraceful McCarthy era and was blacklisted which meant his career was thwarted.  Even his passport was revoked so he couldn't travel and make money.

But his art lives on.  I enjoy listening to his music and recommend it to you.


  1. His voice gives me chills. What a great find.

  2. What a fantastic find!

    Have a fantastic day,

    1. Did I write 'fantastic' twice in a row? Oh dear...

  3. My hunny is really good with music so when I asked him if he had heard of Mr Robeson he immediately knew who he was. I need to 'research' and listen to his music.

  4. I recognize his name, but sadly I fall under the category of those "kids who don't know their history." I feel that there are far too many legends like Paul Robeson that need to be remembered. But perhaps since he was blacklisted, it may play a part into why most of us younger folks aren't so familiar with him? I don't remember being taught about him or his story in school. Our current school system has been known to censor history.

    I wanted to thank you for your wonderful comment you left on my blog. It really means a lot to me :) I'm glad that I have readers like you who genuinely enjoy my posts.

    And in a funny coincidence...your comment on my post about smiles...made me smile!

    xo Azu

    1. That's nice. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

      There's no problem with not knowing something, only with not wanting to know something. We all have the opportunity to add to our knowledge as we continue to live. I try to learn new things all the time.

      Robeson is a pretty big deal. While his story might not be taught in grade school, any college course on the McCarthy era or black history or last century music will cover him.

  5. Neat find. I've never heard of him.

    I love that the cashier got really excited about it and called everyone over...thrift stories rock.


  6. Paul Robeson was one of the greatest human beings in American history and almost totally erased. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I did not know what happened with McCarthy. It's sad how we can hurt others and deprive ourselves with irrational fears and hatreds.

  8. The riots of 1949 in Peekskill were known as the Robeson riots. Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and others were there. The concerts and speeches that spawned the unrest happened up near Hollow Brook in what is now the Town of Cortlandt Manor. I lived in CM for 25 years and now live in Peekskill. The area where the shows and concerts is now a golf course.
    Not quite the "Yellow Brick Road" down by the Peekskill Train station but historic nonetheless.