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On My Journey: Paul Robeson's Independent Recordings

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A 20th century renaissance man, Paul Robeson was an actor, singer, writer, scholar, activist, and intellectual with a degree from the Columbia University law school. He also suffered no fools, and his outspoken views on racism and McCarthyism eventually led to his blacklisting in the 1950s, a situation Robeson met with characteristic dignity and resilience. When no label would record him, he started his own imprint, Othello Records, and recorded some 100 tracks and released three LPs (Robeson Sings, Solid Rock, and Let Freedom Ring) between 1954 and 1958, generally to spare piano accompaniment by either Lawrence Brown or Alan Booth. Eventually Monitor Records picked up some of these tracks for a pair of LPs in 1958, Favorite Songs and Encore Robeson, which became the first dents in Robeson's situation on the blacklist, which was smashed entirely when Vanguard Records picked him up a year later. Throughout this period, Robeson found himself being harassed by the U.S. government in myriad ways, but he responded with diligence, determination, and the kind of personal grace that Senator McCarthy could only dream about. Now these independent recordings, most of them produced by Robeson's son Paul Robeson, Jr. and many recorded in friends' apartments, are fittingly a part of the Smithsonian/Folkways catalog, and a generous sampling of them is included here. Robeson's deep voice and theatrical singing style sound quaint at first, but as he tackles these traditional spirituals and folk songs, most of which concern themselves with faith, hope, and freedom, the full range of this man's vision becomes clear: one love, one world, as Bob Marley would put it over a decade later. Among the highlights here are versions of Dvorák's "Songs My Mother Taught Me," the powerful and majestic "Takin' Names," a probably definitive "Joe Hill," and a resonant take on "No More Auction Block for Me," a song that became the melodic template for "We Shall Overcome," and speeded up, for Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," plus a wonderful version of "Hammer Song" done with the harmonica-and-guitar team of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. Robeson's performing style and approach clearly belong to the early 20th century, but his convictions, vision, and unerring and diligent activism place him intellectually at the close of it. Robeson blazed the path that Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez, and many others would follow in the 1960s, and truthfully, provides a road map for 21st century agitators like Rage Against the Machine. A true American treasure and icon, Paul Robeson's work belongs at Smithsonian/Folkways, which will always keep it available and in print.


Geboren: 09. April 1898 in Princeton, NJ

Genre: Vocal

Jahre aktiv: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Paul Robeson excelled as an athlete, actor, singer, and activist, qualifying him as a contemporary renaissance man. His early accomplishments as a professional football player, Columbia law school graduate, and an actor on Broadway in the 1920s seemed but a prologue to even greater achievements to come. Involvement with the political left in the 1940s, however, led to a confrontation with the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the late 1940s. He was blacklisted, his passport was...
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