NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2013 - Page 174

n Scene from Othello with Paul Robeson as Othello, Theatre Guild Production, Broadway, 1943-44. 172 Robeson may therefore be considered to have transposed political conviction into musical expression. Along with Du Bois and other thinkers, Robeson believed that rather than historical materialism, it was internationalism and the right of nations (or of national minorities) to self-determination, as officially promoted in the ussr, which provided hope for the freedom of black people in the African colonies and in the United States. The revolution was supposed to bring about profound cultural changes which would transform the West in the same way that The Souls of Black Folk, celebrated by Du Bois, was supposed to revitalize America. Robeson transcribed these aspirations into a musical language he was more familiar with: songs, like nations, had their own rhythm or history; their key or culture. These songs were not uniform but could resonate with the common experience of a community of hope. Robeson’s stage presence, his reputation, baritone voice and multilingual talents amplified this resonance and also made him an international star. When he at last returned with Essie and their son to live in the United States, in 1939, he was at the summit of his career. In 1936, the film Show Boat, produced by Universal Studios, had been a huge success. Robeson’s portrayal of Othello on Broadway in 1943 led to a two year tour of America. This, along with the success of his interpretation of the Ballad for Americans, first broadcast on cbs and subsequently released as a recording, made Robeson the most famous black person in the United States during the 1940s. From concert hall to trade union and political meetings, Robeson’s reputation grew continually during the period. 003-Main-Content.indd 172 9/13/13 1:08 AM