NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2013 - Page 171

This shared experience of prejudice was one of the sources of Robeson’s perception of a similarity between the black and the Jewish experience that he often referred to afterwards and which was reflected in his own marriage. His wife, Eslanda (Essie) Cardozo Good, was a light-skinned mulatto with mixed origins: her maternal grandfather, Francis Lewis Cardozo, was a determined opponent of slavery who came from a well-todo Sephardic family from Charleston, South Carolina. Cardozo married Lydia Williams who was a mulatto. Paul had married Essie in 1921 while still a student at Columbia Law School but he had already begun to give recitals. BRN-FALL-2013.indb 169 His talent and stage presence quickly led to widespread success. At a time when Blacks were generally limited to stereotyped roles on small stages, Robeson sang Negro spirituals in large concert halls and took the title role in the Eugene O’Neill play Emperor Jones. As was often the case for black artists at the time, Robeson’s trips to Europe considerably enhanced his popularity and provided him with new opportunities. He was based in London from the late 1920s until 1939, also travelling to other countries and regularly returning to the United States. In 1930 he played Othello at the Savoy theatre in London, a role which he would return to thirteen years later in New York and for which he was awarded the naacp Spingarn medal. While in London he also acted in the long-running musical Show Boat in which he played the part of Joe, a role specially designed for Robeson. It was in the musical that he first sang “Ol’ Man River,” one of the songs he would become best known for. His was a minor role in a show which played on 19th century images of the “Black South” but Robeson managed to partly subvert the stereotypes through his strong stage presence. This would later lead to world-wide fame since the musical was also staged on Broadway and later adapted to cinema in Hollywood in 1936. His appearance in numerous English films during his time in London also enhanced his international reputation. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE The ostracism and rejection were exemplified by the fact that the only w