97 Facts About Paul Robeson


Paul Leroy Robeson was an American bass-baritone concert artist, stage and film actor, professional football player, and activist who became famous both for his cultural accomplishments and for his political stances.


In 1915, Robeson won an academic scholarship to Rutgers College.


Paul Robeson performed in Britain in a touring melodrama, Voodoo, in 1922, and in Emperor Jones in 1925.


Paul Robeson gained attention in Sanders of the River and in the film production of Show Boat.


Paul Robeson moved to Harlem and published a periodical called Freedom, which was critical of United States policies, from 1950 to 1955.


Between 1925 and 1961, Paul Robeson recorded and released some 276 songs.


Paul Robeson's recorded repertoire spanned many styles, including Americana, popular standards, classical music, European folk songs, political songs, poetry and spoken excerpts from plays.


Paul Robeson was born in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1898, to Reverend William Drew Paul Robeson and Maria Louisa Bustill.


Paul Robeson's mother, Maria, was a member of the Bustills, a prominent Quaker family of mixed ancestry.


Paul Robeson's father, William, was of Igbo origin and was born into slavery.


Three years later when Paul Robeson was six, his mother, who was nearly blind, died in a house fire.


Zion in 1910, where Paul Robeson filled in for his father during sermons when he was called away.


In 1912, Paul Robeson began attending Somerville High School in New Jersey, where he performed in Julius Caesar and Othello, sang in the chorus, and excelled in football, basketball, baseball and track.


Paul Robeson took a summer job as a waiter in Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island, where he befriended Fritz Pollard, later to be the first African-American coach in the National Football League.


In late 1915, Paul Robeson became the third African-American student ever enrolled at Rutgers, and the only one at the time.


Paul Robeson tried out for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights football team, and his resolve to make the squad was tested as his teammates engaged in excessive play, during which his nose was broken and his shoulder dislocated.


Paul Robeson joined the debating team and sang off-campus for spending money, and on-campus with the Glee Club informally, as membership required attending all-white mixers.


Paul Robeson took the sole responsibility in caring for him, shuttling between Rutgers and Somerville.


Paul Robeson finished university with four annual oratorical triumphs and varsity letters in multiple sports.


Paul Robeson's classmates recognized him by electing him class valedictorian.


At Rutgers Paul Robeson gained a reputation for his singing, having a deep rich voice which some saw as bass with a high range, others as baritone with low notes.


Paul Robeson entered New York University School of Law in fall 1919.


However, Paul Robeson felt uncomfortable at NYU and moved to Harlem and transferred to Columbia Law School in February 1920.


Paul Robeson began dating Eslanda "Essie" Goode and after her coaxing, he gave his theatrical debut as Simon in Ridgely Torrence's Simon of Cyrene.


Paul Robeson was recruited by Fritz Pollard to play for the NFL's Akron Pros while he continued his law studies.


Paul Robeson then sang in the chorus of an Off-Broadway production of Shuffle Along before he joined Taboo in Britain.


Paul Robeson ended his football career after the 1922 season, and graduated from Columbia Law School in 1923.


Paul Robeson worked briefly as a lawyer, but he renounced a career in law because of racism.


Paul Robeson was the head histological chemist in Surgical Pathology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.


Paul Robeson continued to work there until 1925 when his career took off.


Paul Robeson answered criticism of its plot by writing that fate had drawn him to the "untrodden path" of drama, that the true measure of a culture is in its artistic contributions, and that the only true American culture was African-American.


Essie's ambition for Paul Robeson was a startling dichotomy to his indifference.


Paul Robeson quit her job, became his agent, and negotiated his first movie role in a silent race film directed by Oscar Micheaux, Body and Soul.


Paul Robeson performed his repertoire of spirituals on the radio.


In 1928, Paul Robeson played "Joe" in the London production of the American musical Show Boat, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.


Paul Robeson was summoned for a Royal Command Performance at Buckingham Palace and Robeson was befriended by Members of Parliament from the House of Commons.


Essie had learned early in their marriage that Paul Robeson had been involved in extramarital affairs, but she tolerated them.


Paul Robeson then returned to the Savoy Theatre, in London's West End to play Othello, opposite Peggy Ashcroft as Desdemona.


Paul Robeson cited the lack of a "racial problem" in London as significant in his decision to move to London.


Paul Robeson was the first black actor to play Othello in Britain since Ira Aldridge.


Paul Robeson returned to Broadway as Joe in the 1932 revival of Show Boat, to critical and popular acclaim.


In early 1934, Paul Robeson enrolled in the School of Oriental and African Studies, a constituent college of the University of London, where he studied phonetics and Swahili.


Paul Robeson undertook the role of Bosambo in the movie Sanders of the River, which he felt would render a realistic view of colonial African culture.


The Commissioner of Nigeria to London protested the film as slanderous to his country, and Paul Robeson thereafter became more politically conscious of his roles.


In 1935 Paul Robeson met Albert Einstein when Einstein came backstage after Paul Robeson's concert at the McCarter Theatre.


Paul Robeson believed that the struggle against fascism during the Spanish Civil War was a turning point in his life and transformed him into a political activist.


Paul Robeson visited the battlefront and provided a morale boost to the Republicans at a time when their victory was unlikely.


Paul Robeson reevaluated the direction of his career and decided to focus on the ordeals of "common people".


Paul Robeson appeared in the pro-labor play Plant in the Sun, in which he played an Irishman, his first "white" role.


Paul Robeson was living in Britain until shortly before the start of the Second World War in 1939.


Paul Robeson narrated the 1942 documentary Native Land which was labeled by the FBI as communist propaganda.


Paul Robeson participated in benefit concerts on behalf of the war effort and at a concert at the Polo Grounds, he met two emissaries from the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, Solomon Mikhoels and Itzik Feffer Subsequently, Paul Robeson reprised his role of Othello at the Shubert Theatre in 1943, and became the first African American to play the role with a white supporting cast on Broadway.


Paul Robeson toured North America with Othello until 1945, and subsequently, his political efforts with the CAA to get colonial powers to discontinue their exploitation of Africa were short-circuited by the United Nations.


Paul Robeson premiered the song at a concert in New York City's Lewisohn Stadium and recorded it in both English and Chinese for Keynote Records in early 1941.


Paul Robeson gave further performances at benefit concerts for the China Aid Council and United China Relief at Washington's Uline Arena on April 24,1941.


Subsequently, Paul Robeson publicly called upon all Americans to demand that Congress pass civil rights legislation.


Paul Robeson founded the American Crusade Against Lynching organization in 1946.


Paul Robeson was later called before the Tenney Committee where he responded to questions about his affiliation with the Communist Party USA by testifying that he was not a member of the CPUSA.


Nevertheless, two organizations with which Paul Robeson was intimately involved, the Civil Rights Congress and the CAA, were placed on the Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations.


In 1948, Robeson was prominent in Henry A Wallace's bid for the President of the United States, during which Robeson traveled to the Deep South, at risk to his own life, to campaign for him.


Paul Robeson traveled to Moscow in June 1949, and tried to find Itzik Feffer whom he had met during World War II.


Paul Robeson let Soviet authorities know that he wanted to see him.


The Peekskill Riots ensued in which violent anti-Paul Robeson protests shut down a Paul Robeson concert on August 27,1949, and marred the aftermath of the replacement concert held eight days later.


In 1950, Robeson co-founded, with W E B Du Bois, a monthly newspaper, Freedom, showcasing his views and those of his circle.


In 1952, Paul Robeson was awarded the International Stalin Prize by the Soviet Union.


Paul Robeson returned to perform a second concert at the Peace Arch in 1953, and over the next two years, two further concerts took place.


In 1956, Paul Robeson was called before HUAC after he refused to sign an affidavit affirming that he was not a Communist.


In 1956, in the United Kingdom, Topic Records, at that time part of the Workers Music Association, released a single of Paul Robeson singing the labor anthem "Joe Hill", written by Alfred Hayes and Earl Robinson, backed with "John Brown's Body".


In 1956, after public pressure brought a one-time exemption to the travel ban, Paul Robeson performed two concerts in Canada in February, one in Toronto and the other at a union convention in Sudbury, Ontario.


Still unable to perform abroad in person, on May 26,1957, Paul Robeson sang for a London audience at St Pancras Town Hall via the recently completed transatlantic telephone cable TAT-1.


Paul Robeson embarked on a world tour using London as his base.


Paul Robeson recovered and returned to the UK to visit the National Eisteddfod of Wales.


In 1960, in what was his final concert performance in Great Britain, Paul Robeson sang to raise money for the Movement for Colonial Freedom at the Royal Festival Hall.


Paul Robeson subsequently demanded that the Australian government provide the Aborigines citizenship and equal rights.


Paul Robeson left Australia as a respected, albeit controversial, figure and his support for Aboriginal rights had a profound effect in Australia over the next decade.


Back in London after his Australia and New Zealand tour, Paul Robeson expressed a desire to return to the United States and participate in the civil rights movement, while his wife argued that he would be unsafe there and "unable to make any money" due to government harassment.


Paul Robeson remembered that his father had had such fears before his prostate operation.


Paul Robeson said that three doctors treating Robeson in London and New York had been CIA contractors, and that his father's symptoms resulted from being "subjected to mind de-patterning under MK-ULTRA", a secret CIA programme.


Paul Robeson was admitted to the Priory Hospital, where he underwent electroconvulsive therapy and was given heavy doses of drugs for nearly two years, with no accompanying psychotherapy.


In December 1963, Paul Robeson returned to the United States and for the remainder of his life lived mainly in seclusion.


Paul Robeson momentarily assumed a role in the civil rights movement, making a few major public appearances before falling seriously ill during a tour.


Paul Robeson was contacted by both Bayard Rustin and James Farmer about the possibility of becoming involved with the mainstream of the Civil Rights Movement.


Paul Robeson eventually met with Farmer, but because he was asked to denounce Communism and the Soviet Union in order to assume a place in the mainstream, Paul Robeson adamantly declined.


On January 23,1976, following complications of a stroke, Paul Robeson died in Philadelphia at the age of 77.


Paul Robeson lay in state in Harlem and his funeral was held at his brother Ben's former parish, Mother Zion AME Zion Church, where Bishop J Clinton Hoggard performed the eulogy.


Paul Robeson was interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.


Early in his life, Paul Robeson was one of the most influential participants in the Harlem Renaissance.


Paul Robeson was among the first artists to refuse to perform to segregated audiences.


Paul Robeson is a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame.


Paul Robeson's Othello was characterised by Michael A Morrison in 2011 as a high point in Shakespearean theatre in the 20th century.


In 1930, while performing Othello in London, Paul Robeson was painted by the British artist Glyn Philpot; this portrait was sold in 1944 under the title Head of a Negro and thereafter thought lost, but was rediscovered by Simon Martin, the director of the Pallant House Gallery, for an exhibition held there in 2022.


Paul Robeson archives exist at the Academy of Arts; Howard University, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.


In 2010, Susan Paul Robeson launched a project at Swansea University, supported the Welsh Assembly, to create an online learning resource in her grandfather's memory.


In 2009, Paul Robeson was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.


The main campus library at Rutgers University-Camden is named after Paul Robeson, as is the campus center at Rutgers University-Newark.


In 2001, Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers released a song titled "Let Paul Robeson Sing" as a tribute to Paul Robeson, which reached number 19 on the UK singles chart.


In January 1978, James Earl Jones performed the one-man show Paul Robeson, written by Phillip Hayes Dean, on Broadway.