African-American History
Harlem Renaissance
Paul Revere

What did Paul Robeson have to do with the Harlem Renaissance?

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June 05, 2009 12:58AM

Paul Robeson originally came to Harlem to attend Columbia Law School which graduated from in 1923. After racism in the law profession turned him against becoming a lawyer, he found fame as an actor and singing star of both stage and radio during the Harlem Renaissance with his voice, acting skills and commanding presence. Paul Robeson's first roles during the Harlem Renaissance were in 1922 playing Simon in Simon the Cyrenian at the YMCA in Harlem and Jim in Taboo at the Sam Harris Theater in Harlem. Taboo was later re-named Vodoo plus two Eugene O'Neil plays (The Emperor Jones and All Gods Chillun Got Wings)

In addition to his stage performances, his renditions of Negro spirituals were acclaimed; Robeson and his accompanist and arranger Lawrence Brown were the first to bring them to the concert stage. Robeson's career in song started in 1922. Eubie Blake heard Robeson sing casually and encouraged him to appear in Blake's production of Shuffle Along. In 1924 when Robeson was unable to whistle for a performance in Taboo he sang a spiritual instead pleasing both the cast and audiences. Robeson also recorded music and radio programs during this period.