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Paul Robeson

(1898—1976) actor, singer, and political activist

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Black US singer and actor.

Robeson was born in Princeton, New Jersey, the son of a Presbyterian minister and schoolteacher, and was a leading athlete at Rutgers University. Although he attended Columbia University Law School, he abandoned his career as a lawyer and became an actor. Early stage appearances included Voodoo (1922) with Mrs Patrick Campbell. Critical acclaim, however, came with Eugene O'Neill's All God's Chillun Got Wings (1924), followed by The Emperor Jones (1925), in which his reputation as a singer as well as an actor was established. The screen version of this play provided his first film role in 1933. This was followed by several films in Britain, including the memorable Sanders of the River (1935), Song of Freedom (1936), and Proud Valley (1940).

Returning to the USA he toured successfully in Othello throughout the 1940s. However his outspoken political comments brought him to the attention of the Un-American Activities Committee and his passport was revoked in 1950. It was returned in 1958, and the following year he came to London to sing at the Albert Hall and to appear at Stratford in Othello. After touring Europe he returned to the USA, where he lived in relative seclusion until his death. As well as his film and stage successes, Robeson is remembered for his remarkable singing of ‘Ole Man River’ from Jerome Kern's Showboat, filmed in 1936.

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