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Paul Robeson

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Paul Robeson (April 9, 1898 – January 23, 1976) was a multi-lingual American actor, athlete, bass-baritone concert singer, writer, civil rights activist, Spingarn Medal winner, and Lenin Peace Prize laureate.

Robeson found fame as an actor and singer with his fine bass-baritone voice. He is one of the few true basses in American music, his beautiful and powerful voice descending as low as a C below the bass clef. In addition to his stage performances, his renditions of old Negro spirituals were acclaimed; Robeson was the first to bring them to the concert stage.

Robeson’s repertoire of African-American folk songs helped bring these to much wider attention both inside the US and abroad. Robeson also became interested in the folk music of the world; he came to be conversant with 20 languages, fluent or near fluent in 12. His standard repertoire after the 1920’s included songs in many languages (e.g., Chinese, Russian, Yiddish, German, etc.).

Robeson was among the first performers to sing in concert on behalf of the U.S. World War II war effort. He sang and spoke out against racist conditions experienced by Asian and Black Americans; he condemned segregation in both the North and the South.
Like many intellectuals and artists of the time, Robeson supported the Soviet Union. After living as a second-class citizen under Jim Crow laws in the United States, what Robeson saw in the Soviet Union led him to believe that it was free of racial prejudice. In June 1949, Robeson visited the Soviet Union to sing in concert and was given a warm public welcome.

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