Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Paul Robeson

Dr. Bob Prescribes: The Criterion Collection – Paul Robeson, Portrait of the Artist

In 1965, the American writer James Baldwin wrote: “At a time when there seemed to be no hope at all, Paul Robeson [1898-1976] spoke out for all of us.” By “all of us,” Baldwin is, of course, referring to Black America. In 1998, the American scholar, historian, author, and social historian Lerone Bennett expanded on Baldwin’s comment, writing: “Before King dreamed, before Thurgood Marshall petitioned and Sidney Poitier emoted, before the big breakthrough in Hollywood and Washington, before the Jim Crow signs came down, and before the civil rights banners went up, before Spike Lee, before Denzel, before Sam Jackson and Jesse Jackson, there was Paul Robeson. One of the most phenomenally gifted men ever born in America, he lived one of the most extraordinary stories of the century. When he died, even his critics and detractors conceded that he was one of the immortals.” According to the American historian Dr. Clement Alexander Price, who was the Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of History at the Newark, NJ campus of Rutgers University: “Called by some ‘The Great Forerunner’ and others the ‘Tallest Tree in Our Forest,’ Paul Robeson is without peer in the annals of modern American civilization. His […]

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Music History Monday: Paul Robeson: Truly Larger Than Life

We mark the death on January 23, 1976 – 47 years ago today – of the American bass-baritone singer, stage and screen actor, civil rights activist, professional football player, and graduate of Columbia University Law School Paul Robeson at the age of 77, in Philadelphia.  Born in Princeton, New Jersey on April 9, 1898, the son of an escaped slave turned Presbyterian minister, Robeson had more intellectual, artistic, and athletic gifts and lived more lives than any 10 (20? 50? 100?) so-called “normal” people.  And he had to fight for every one of those lives, growing up a black person in early twentieth century America. “Larger than Life” The English-language idiom “larger than life” describes people “who are better and stronger and smarter than the average Joe”: individuals imbued with characteristics and abilities far beyond those of “ordinary” human beings. Typically, the idiom is reserved for fictional characters, who are gifted with superhuman (or nearly so) qualities and abilities. The heroes, warriors, gods, and goddesses of myths and legends are, by definition, “larger than life.” Achilles, Hercules, Zeus, Odysseus, Thor, Brünnhilde (and many, many more) would all qualify.  Comic book characters and superheroes are likewise, by their nature, “larger than […]

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