Saturday, June 15, 2013

The voice that rebelled

Listening to Paul Robeson's rare recordings of two very special concerts, during a recent visit to the US, was an emotional experience for us. The first concert was at the AME Zion Church in New York on June 1, 1958. It was also his last concert in the US before his passport was restored to him, after nine years of legal struggle and official attempts to erase his singing career. The second concert was on August 10, 1958, at the Royal Albert Hall in London, his first abroad after his right to travel was restored.

The New York concert, at the church where his brother was a pastor, came at the end of a period during which concert halls across the US refused to rent their premises to Robeson, because he spoke on behalf of Black Liberation and for the cause of oppressed people everywhere. One of the remarks he made at the concert was, “I want the folks of Mother Zion to know that a [period of] hard struggle is over… this could not have happened without the strength and courage and help and the prayers of you all, not only in Mother Zion but also in many parts of America….” Because of the context in which the concert took place, the spirituals he sang on this occasion have an emotional quality. The rendition of Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, which he sang and recorded that evening, has a quality that is indeed special.
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