Home / Biography / Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson

Biography

Distinguished actor, singer, and civil legal rights advocate who was simply the first BLACK to try out Othello in Broadway using a white helping cast. He performed football, football, and golf ball, and ran monitor and field, graduating from Somerville SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL with four varsity words. He was a soccer superstar at Rutgers before executing in London productions of Present Sail boat and Othello in the past due 1920s and early 1930s. He was created in Princeton, NJ to Reverend William Drew Robeson and Maria Louisa Bustill, and was raised with three brothers and one sister. He once communicated to Leader Harry S. Truman about the lynching occurrence of African-Americans in Georgia.

Quick Facts


Full Name Paul Robeson
Date Of Birth April 9, 1898
Died January 23, 1976, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Place Of Birth Princeton, NJ
Height 1.91 m
Weight 99 kg
Profession Stage Actor
Education Columbia Law School, Rutgers University, Somerville High School, Columbia University
Nationality American
Spouse Eslanda Goode Robeson
Children Paul Robeson Jr.
Parents William Drew Robeson I, Maria Louisa Bustill
Siblings Benjamin Robeson, Marian Robeson, Reeve Robeson, William Drew Robeson Jr.
Awards Grammy Hall of Fame, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, NAACP Image Award – Hall of Fame Award
Movies The Proud Valley, Sanders of the River, The Emperor Jones, Show Boat, Body and Soul, Song of Freedom, Big Fella, Tales of Manhattan, Native Land, King Solomon's Mines, Borderline, Camille, The Song of the Rivers, My Song Goes Forth
Star Sign Aries

  • Facts
  • Filmography
  • Awards
  • Salaries
  • Quotes
  • Trademarks
  • Pictures

#Fact
1[Elisabeth Welch on co-star Paul Robeson]: There were no lines he objected to in "Song of Freedom." In later years he was very nasty in that film "Sanders of the River." He said they had tricked him into that. I don't know how or why. That's his comment, but I have no evidence of it. He was a lovely man. We discussed politics naturally, but I'm not politically minded although I follow. And I have my own theories. He said you've got to be a citizen of the world because of this... (she points to the color of her skin.} I said I've got so many bloods in me, I'm part of the world. I don't stand up for one or the other, only for what's right... for decency. He wanted to convert me, but he was very gentle about it. I'll take anybody's arguments if they have a sense of humor with it. And, of course, he laughed so easily. We became great friends. I loved him, and he always came to see me when I was playing.
2Played professional Football for the Akron Pros and Milwaukee Badgers.
3He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
4He was captain of the Rutgers debating team.
5Was investigated by the California Senate's Fact Finding Committee on Un-American Activities (colloquially known as the "Tenney Committee" after Committee Chairman Jack Tenney). The Tenney Committee investigated alleged communists in California.
6Although he did give a few interviews on television, he never played any dramatic or musical roles in that medium.
7Attempted suicide at a party in 1961. His son Paul Robeson Jr. believes his father had been drugged by the CIA.
8Nearly died from double pneumonia and a blocked kidney in 1965.
9His father was William Drew Robeson, a minister. His mother was Maria Louisa Bustill (? - 1904).
10He was elected into the 2008 New Jersey Hall of Fame for his contributions to History.
11Portrayed by James Earl Jones in a 1976 theatre production about his life. Jones sang in the production, despite the fact that he does not possess a real "singer's voice". This one-man show was eventually telecast on PBS.
12Appeared in a World War II-era U.S. Government War Department propaganda film aimed at combating the spread of venereal diseases among black soldiers. The film was called "Easy to Get" (serial number T.F.8 1423), and Robeson appears at the end in his capacity as a celebrity football star and singer to advise viewers to stay "clean.".
13Portrayed by Avery Brooks in a 1982 revival of the 1976 theater production about his life.
14In December 1937 he sang a whole night for Spanish Republican troops fighting to take the town of Teruel.
15He was awarded the 1953 Stalin Peace Prize by the Soviet government. He was the last one to receive it before it was renamed the Lenin Peace Prize a few years later.
16Robeson made only one stereo recording, a two volume set of his historic 1958 Carnegie Hall recital - his only appearance there. Unfortunately, the albums made from this occasion turned out to be his last. The Carnegie Hall concert has since been issued on CD, and shows him in remarkably good voice for a sixty year old singer.
17The subject of the World/Inferno Friendship Society song, "Paul Robeson". Contains the rousing chorus "Speak Up/Black Out/Black Listed/Full bodied - red".
18Was the subject of the song "Paul Robeson (Born To Be Free)" by the Celtic rock group, Black 47.
19Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
20Although he changed the lyrics of "Ol' Man River" in 1938 to reflect his own personal and political views, and although the recordings he made of the song after 1938 use those altered lyrics, Robeson always sang the song as originally written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II in the stage productions of "Show Boat" in which he appeared, as well as in the 1936 film version (with the exception of the word 'niggers", which, in the film, was changed to "darkies").
21In its time, the Robeson "Othello" could not have been filmed because of the racial climate of the era - a black man could not play a love scene with a white woman in a motion picture in the 1940s. In addition, Robeson was blacklisted for his political beliefs in 1950, and as a result, was not able to make any films in the U.S., or have any of his films shown in the U.S. at that time.
22The 1943 Broadway production of "Othello", in which Robeson starred is, to this day, the longest-running non-musical production of a Shakespeare play ever to be staged in the United States, due almost entirely to Robeson's enormous popularity at the time. "Kiss Me Kate", inspired by "The Taming of the Shrew", "West Side Story", inspired by "Romeo and Juliet", and the musical version of "Two Gentlemen of Verona", based on Shakespeare's comedy of the same name, all ran longer, but the 1943 "Othello",a "straight" production of the play, ran for nine months at the same theatre, and then went on a highly successful U.S. tour.
23Pictured on a 37¢ USA commemorative postage stamp in the Black Heritage series, issued 20 January 2004.
24Subject of 2001 Manic Street Preachers single 'Let Robeson Sing' (from the album Know Your Enemy)
25Has a black tomato variety named after him, allegedly named so by its Russian growers because he was extremely well liked in that country. (source: tomatofest.com)
26In stage productions he acted William Shakespeare's "Othello" as it was written, but when he performed Othello's final speech at his concert recitals, he changed the famous phrase "one that lov'd not wisely, but too well" to "one that lov'd full wisely, but too well".
27Was able to speak and write in over 20 languages.
28According to the biography written by his son, Paul Robeson Jr., he had a long-term extramarital relationship with Fredi Washington. They appeared in one film together, The Emperor Jones (1933).
29In 1942, said he wouldn't make any more films until there were better roles for blacks.
30Robeson was the first black person to play football for Rutgers University.
31Robeson was only the third black person to attend Rutgers University, the state university of New Jersey.
32Robeson was twice Named All-American Football Player for Rutgers at End, in 1917 and 1918.
33Inducted into the National College Football Hall of Fame.
34Inducted into the Rutgers Football Hall of Fame.
35Elected to Phi Beta Kappa at Rutgers in 1919.
36Graduate of Columbia University School of Law.
37Played football professionally for three years in the APFL (American Professional Football League) 1920-1922.
38Elected Valedictorian of his senior class at Rutgers, 1919.
39The role of Joe, the deckhand, in Jerome Kern's and Oscar Hammerstein II's "Show Boat" was written for him, but because of schedule conflicts and Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.'s delay in putting on the show, he was unable to star in the first stage production and played the role in London five months later. He sang "Ol' Man River" in the show, and made the second ever recording of the song ever in 1928 (Bing Crosby did the first), the same year he starred in the show. He became so identified with it that he starred in three more productions of "Show Boat": the 1932 New York revival, the 1936 film version and a 1940 Los Angeles stage production. Although he continued singing "Ol' Man River" in every one of his solo recitals, and made at least two more recordings of the song, he began changing the lyrics after 1938 to reflect his more racially conscious views.
40In 1952 and 1953 he sang in defiance of the U.S. government in what is now called "The Peace Arch Concerts." These concerts, attended by over 40,000 people, are now available on CD and feature Robeson's only political speeches on record along with his signature song, "Old Man River."
41In 1925, he sang the first concert recital consisting solely of black spirituals, at the Greenwich Village Theatre in New York.


Soundtrack

Soundtrack

TitleYearStatusCharacter
Indignation2016performer: "Chee Lai March of the Volunteers"
Pride2014/Iperformer: "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes"
Timeshift2013TV Series documentary performer - 1 episode
The House I Live In2012Documentary performer: "THE HOUSE I LIVE IN"
War on Terror2011Documentary performer: "Danny Boy Londonderry Air"
Sing Your Song2011Documentary performer: "Ol' Man River"
Johnny Mercer: The Dream's on Me2009TV Movie documentary performer: "My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night", "Ol' Man River"
Jonathan Meades - Magnetic North2008TV Series documentary performer - 1 episode
Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind2007Documentary performer: "Joe Hill"
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Songs: America's Greatest Music in the Movies2004TV Movie documentary performer: "Ol' Man River"
Killer of Sheep1978performer: "My Curly Headed Baby", "The House I Live in", "Going Home"
Brother Can You Spare a Dime1975Documentary performer: "Water Boy" - uncredited
Rencontres de septembre1961Documentary short performer: "Ol' Man River"
Tales of Manhattan1942performer: "Glory Day" - uncredited
Canciones de Madrid1938Documentary short performer: "La Internacional" The Internationale, "La Joven Guardia"
Dark Sands1937performer: "My Way", "Deep Desert", "Shortnin' Bread" uncredited, "Silent Night" uncredited
King Solomon's Mines1937performer: "Walk! Walk!", "Climbin' Up", "Kukuwana"
Big Fella1937performer: "Lazin'", "When I Get to Heaven", "Roll Up Sailorman", "Ma Curly Headed Baby", "River Steals My Folks from Me"
Song of Freedom1936"Lonely Road", "Song of Freedom" / performer: "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" uncredited, "Sleepy River", "Lonely Road", "Stepping Stones", "Song of Freedom", "The Black Emperor"
Show Boat1936performer: "Ol' Man River" 1927, "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" 1927, "Ah Still Suits Me" 1936, "Finale: You Are Love" 1927 and "Ol' Man River" 1927 - uncredited
Sanders of the River1935performer: "The Song of the Spear", "Lion Song", "My Little Black Dove"
The Emperor Jones1933performer: "Now Let Me Fly", "Water Boy", "I'm Travelin'", "Daniel" - uncredited

Actor

Actor

TitleYearStatusCharacter
Tales of Manhattan1942Luke
Native Land1942Narrator / Vocalist (voice)
The Proud Valley1940David
Dark Sands1937Cpl. Jericho Jackson
King Solomon's Mines1937Umbopa
Big Fella1937Joe
Song of Freedom1936John 'Johnny' Zinga
Show Boat1936Joe
Sanders of the River1935Bosambo
The Emperor Jones1933Brutus Jones
Borderline1930Pete - a Negro
Camille1926/IIShortAlexandre Dumas fils
Body and Soul1925Rev. Isaiah T. Jenkins His Brother Sylvester

Thanks

Thanks

TitleYearStatusCharacter
Frankenpimp's Revenge: The Romeo and Juliet Massacrespecial thanks filming
The Last White Knight2012Documentary in memory of

Self

Self

TitleYearStatusCharacter
Charlie Rose1999TV SeriesHimself - Guest
Spectacular1960TV SeriesHimself-host
Unser Sandmännchen1959TV SeriesHimself
Monitor1959TV Series documentaryHimself / Othello
Val Parnell's Sunday Night at the London Palladium1958TV SeriesHimself - Top Of The Bill
Das Lied der Ströme1954DocumentaryVoice of Singer
Canciones de Madrid1938Documentary short

Archive Footage

Archive Footage

TitleYearStatusCharacter
Pappano's Classical Voices2015TV Series documentaryHimself
Timeshift2013TV Series documentaryHimself - Singer
Democracy Now!2002-2013TV SeriesHimself
Out of My Dreams: Oscar Hammerstein II2012TV Movie documentaryJoe
Sing Your Song2011DocumentaryHimself (uncredited)
Johnny Mercer: The Dream's on Me2009TV Movie documentaryHimself
Pete Seeger: The Power of Song2007DocumentaryHimself
Brush with Life: The Art of Being Edward Biberman2007DocumentaryHimself
Our Paul: Remembering Paul Robeson2007VideoHimself
Broadway: The American Musical2004TV Mini-Series documentaryJoe
La neuvième2004TV Movie documentaryHimself (uncredited)
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Songs: America's Greatest Music in the Movies2004TV Movie documentaryJoe
The South Bank Show2004TV Series documentaryOthello
TV in Black: The First Fifty Years2004Video documentary
Great Performances2003TV SeriesHimself
Freedom Highway: Songs that Shaped a Century2001DocumentaryHimself
American Masters1999TV Series documentaryHimself
Scandalize My Name: Stories from the Blacklist1998DocumentaryHimself
Small Steps, Big Strides: The Black Experience in Hollywood1998TV Movie documentaryHimself
Cold War1998TV Mini-Series documentaryHimself
The Universal Story1995TV Movie documentaryJoe (in 1936 'Show Boat')
Bolshoi kontsert narodov, ili Dykhanie chein-stoksa1991DocumentaryHimself (speaking in Russian) (uncredited)
That's Black Entertainment1990DocumentaryHimself
The Show Boat Story1989TV Movie documentaryJoe (clip from 1936 film of 'Show Boat') (uncredited)
Musical Comedy Tonight III1985TV MovieJoe
Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist1979Documentary shortHimself
Brother Can You Spare a Dime1975Documentary
Black Shadows on the Silver Screen1975TV Movie documentaryHimself (uncredited)
The All Talking, All Singing, All Dancing Show1973TV MovieJoe
Film Night1971TV SeriesHimself
Land of Liberty1939Joe (edited from: Show Boat)

Won awards

Won awards

YearAwardCeremonyNominationMovieAward shared with
1978Star on the Walk of FameWalk of FameMotion PictureOn 9 April 1978 at 6660 Hollywood Blvd.
1972Image AwardImage AwardsSpecial AwardFor his "eminence as an artist and a fighter for human justice."

TitleSalary
The Emperor Jones (1933)$15,000
Body and Soul (1925)$100 /week+3% of gross over $40,000

#Quote
1I shall take my voice wherever there are those who want to hear the melody of freedom or the words that might inspire hope and courage in the face of fear. My weapons are peaceful, for it is only by peace that peace can be attained. The song of freedom must prevail.

#Trademark
1Powerful bass singing voice
2The song "Ol' Man River"

Check Also

Homer Plessy

Creole who all violated Louisiana’s racial segregation laws and regulations. The court’s decision against him …