Social Reformer, Singer, Athlete, and Actor. Considered one of the great American “Renaissance men” and the son of an escaped slave, he was the 1919 valedictorian of Rutgers University, where he also won fifteen varsity letters in football, baseball, basketball, and track & field. He graduated from Columbia Law School in 1923, but soon left his practice to pursue a career in the performing arts. He became known as a master of Black Spiritual music, employing his formidable baritone in international tours. His performances brought wide recognition to this uniquely American genre and Robeson would meet with political leaders like Jomo Kenyatta, Jawaharlal Nehru, and several members of the Soviet Politboro. He would also perform in films, both in musical and dramatic roles. His performance of “Old Man River” in James Whale’s 1936 film “Show Boat” became legendary, both for its quality and for Robeson’s purposeful changing of the lyrics "I'm tired of livin' and 'feared of dyin’" to the more activist "I must keep fightin' until I'm dying." Working in more serious forms, he premiered Earl Robinson’s multi-ethnic cantata “Ballad for Americans” on CBS radio in 1939; he would eventually perform in twenty-five languages. In addition to his creative work, Robeson used his personal prominence to push for social and political reform. He supported the Spanish partisans against Franco’s fascist Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, raised funds for refugees from Hitler’s Germany well before such activities were fashionable, and organized a coalition that challenged President Truman to support an anti-lynching law in 1945. Widely criticized by American conservatives for his sometimes-socialist political views, he was accused of communist activities by Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. His passport was revoked in 1950, preventing him from traveling abroad until its restoration in 1958. Undaunted, he continued to perform and work for civil rights causes, singing at Carnegie Hall and publishing his outspoken biography “Here I Stand” in 1960, all while becoming adept at speaking Chinese. When asked by a critic why he did not just stay in the Soviet Union, he replied: “Because my father was a slave, and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay here and be part of it just like you. And no fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear?” Paul Robeson was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1996, and in 2004 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in his honor.
Bio by: Stuthehistoryguy
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