3 years after Paul Robeson died and many years after illness imposed a forced retirement on him, James Earl Jones gives a mesmerizing and all encompassing one man show about the singer and civil rights pioneer. In fact with that deep voice which has made a considerable number of appearances as well as Jones in the flesh I can't think of another actor who could have brought justice to the part save the late William Marshall.
If they were looking for a singer perhaps William Warfield or Caleb Peterson who sang Ol' Man River on the big screen might have done the job. But Jones does relatively little singing in a show about a singer. It's the iconoclastic civil rights activist that is concentrated on.
Athlete, scholar, concert singer, are enough careers for any man in one lifetime. They're all part and parcel of what was Paul Robeson. Also part of him was an inability to compromise about anything.
It worked well for him when he refused servile movie roles or would not perform for an audience that did not include people that looked like him. That's something I never could fathom. His objections were more than justified. The famous Cotton Club in Harlem which showcased so many black performers of more popular music did not have black people in the audience. Racism with one of the more unbelievable twists.
Who knows what might have happened had FDR lived and a more radical successor with the same global views had succeeded him in 1948. The presidency devolved upon Harry Truman who saw a prostrate Europe open to Soviet hegemony and acted accordingly.
Robeson was lionized and well received in the Soviet Union. So much so he was self imposed blind to the horrible excesses of that state. Joseph Stalin was for him the man who saved the world from Nazism and its racist ideology. No turning back for him and the right wing yahoos who created the post war Red Scare had a field day with him. His treatment was not unlike civil rights pioneer W.E.B. DuBois only DuBois was in newly independent Ghana looking in and Robeson with his passport issue was on the inside looking out.
Robeson was a voice sadly silenced, but what a voice.
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