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Paul Robeson - Bass

“The answer to injustice is not to silence the critic, but to end the injustice.”

African Americans in Opera

Bass, Paul Robeson was an American singer, actor, and civil rights activist. Born in 1898, he is best known for his rendition of "Ol' Man River" and his activism for the rights of African Americans and workers. Robeson was also an advocate for anti-imperialism and was a strong supporter of the Soviet Union. He faced much opposition and government repression during the Red Scare of the 1950s, but his legacy as a powerful voice for social justice continues to inspire people today.

Paul Leroy Robeson was born on April 9, 1898, in Princeton, New Jersey, to Anna Louisa and William Drew Robeson, an escaped enslaved person. A beloved international figure with a huge following in Europe, Robeson regularly spoke out against racial injustice and was involved in world politics. He supported Pan-Africanism, sang for Loyalist soldiers during Spain's civil war, took part in anti-Nazi demonstrations and performed for Allied forces during World War II. He also visited the Soviet Union several times during the mid-1930s, where he developed a fondness for Russian folk culture.

Robeson's relationship with the U.S.S.R. was met with much controversy. Robeson found himself contending with government officials looking to silence a voice who spoke out eloquently against racism and had political ties that could be vilified.

Fueled by the misrepresentation of a speech the actor made at the U.S.S.R-backed Paris Peace Conference in the late 1940s, Robeson was labeled a communist and was staunchly criticized by government officials as well as some African American leaders. He was ultimately barred by the State Department from renewing his passport in 1950 to travel abroad for engagements. Despite his immense popularity, he was blacklisted from domestic concert venues, recording labels and film studios and suffered financially.


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