NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1957 __ Transatlantic telephone concert
Paul Robeson (Robinson) (1898-1976)
Comment : In 1947, the American Heritage Foundation arranged for the original Declaration of Independence and other historic national documents to tour the country on a red, white, and blues Freedom Train. Paul Robeson recorded a poem Langston Hughes wrote about the train that is presented here along with a 1957 concert Robeson, accompanied by pianist Alan Booth, gave over transatlantic cable for the South Wales Miners. Robeson, who spoke 20 languages, sings one song in Welsh. A highlight is the Welsh Treorchy Male Voice Choir serenading Robeson with "We'll Keep a Welcome in the Hillside." There is some static on the recording, but not enough to obscure Robeson's magnificent performance. (Stanley Booth).[After his telephone concert in 1952], Paul Robeson was invited by Welsh miners to be honored guest at annual Eisteddfod Music Festival. Appeal to Supreme Court for passport is rejected, but he is able to sing on schedule, via trans-Atlantic telephone hook-up between New York and Porthcawl, Wales, to the 5,000 gathered there. Paul Robeson was a famous African-American athlete, singer, actor, and one of the first and foremost leaders in the causes of civil rights for people around the world. The album "Freedom Train (and the Welsh Transatlantic Concert)" [Folk Era Records] presents bookends of Paul Robeson's political activism through art. The album begins with Robeson's stirring 1947 reading of the Langston Hughes poem "Freedom Train" and concludes with a 1957 concert [on October 18, 1957] given by telephone for Miners in Wales when the United States Government denied Robeson's right to travel due to his political beliefs. On June 24, 1937, Paul Robeson sings and speaks at benefit concert for the National Joint Committee for Spanish Refugees in Aid of the Basque Refugee Children’s Fund, at Royal Albert Hall, London with 6,000 in attendance. The event is broadcast by radio throughout Europe. Declaring his stand on the side of Republican Spain, states “The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative….The liberation of Spain from the oppression of fascist reactionaries is not a private matter of the Spaniards, but the common cause of all advanced and progressive humanity.” (Foner) He will reiterate this basic principle on many occasions. (Compiled from various sources)Concern for Communist aggression brought the Cold War policies that drove to the core of politics, and Paul Robeson found his travels to Russia particularly distressing to the U.S. State Department and to Congress. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and other hearing groups put many artists in direct collision with "witch hunts" and "fishing expeditions" of powerful groups intent on discovering and punishing any Communist sympathizers that could be rounded up. Paul Robeson, among many others, was required to testify. "In Russia I felt for the first time like a full human being.no color prejudice like in Mississippi, no color prejudice like in Washington. One of the committee members angrily demanded: ‘Why did you not stay in Russia?' "‘Because my father was a slave,' I retorted, ‘and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay right here and have a part of it, just like you. And no fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear?'" Paul Robeson had his passport revoked, and was unable to travel abroad. Concerts were held across borders such as the Peace Arch Park in Washington State, on the border with Canada. And a telephone concert to London was attended there by 600,000 people. Paul was blacklisted, as a Communists sympathizer, resulting in banning him from practicing his art. In one year alone, 85 concerts were canceled. Finally, after 8 years, the Supreme Court dismissed the reasons for his passport denial, and he could again travel. He faced much animosity with American crowds, but was heralded greatly in Europe, and around the world. He traveled and performed for five years, returning to the U.S., and a brief few years of renewed acceptance. (Leroy D. Owens, ""The Meaning of Freedom" - A Paul Robeson Centennial Commemoration", 1995)I was in Junior High when this incredible concert occurred, and I remember hearing about it without understanding all the whys and wherefores. What a powerful experience it was to listen to this for the first time. For those who aren't familiar with the history, the well-written program notes tell the story of Paul Robeson and how he was blacklisted in the US, had a career in Britain where he met up with and made a film about the South Wales coal miners, and how the State Department froze his passport and wouldn't let him leave the country for a number of years, not even to perform at this singing festival in Wales. The trans-Atlantic phone cable was new on the scene, so the festival organizers arranged for Paul Robeson to "appear" by telephone. The CD, "Freedom Train (and the Welsh Transatlantic Concert)" [Folk Era Records], includes the introduction by the organizer, selections by Paul Robeson, and selections by a Welsh choir, singing for him. In the final selection, the audience of 5,000 people in Wales sings, "We'! ll Keep A Welcome in the Valleys" - a very poignant selection under the circumstances. The recording of the concert was made on the Welsh side, with Mr. Robeson's voice coming through the phone wire, so the quality of the recording may not satisfy some listeners. Still, the power of Mr. Robeson's voice comes across loud and clear, as does the emotion of the occasion. This is a must for Welsh-Americans and African-Americans, as well as anyone who wants to see what the US government was capable of doing to its citizens back in the Cold War days. (personal testimony)Paul Robeson and "Freedom Train" - In 1947, the American Heritage Foundation prepared a plan to have the original copy of the Declaration of Independence and other significant historical documents tour the United States on a special train entitled the "freedom train." Although this project was endorsed by President Truman and sponsored by the Attorney General of the U. S., the American Heritage Foundation refused to guarantee the exhibition would not be segregated. Langston Hughes, the internationally renowned poet, responded to the outrage felt by the African-American community about the contradictions evident in an exhibit emphasizing constitutional ideals of freedom and justice which was touring a society where legal segregation was a daily occurrence. Hughes' poem "Freedom Train" was the result, and Paul Robeson soon recorded the piece. Robeson recited "Freedom Train" many times at his concerts, and it was a staple of his public performances up through 1960. (The Electronic New Jersey Project)
Urls : http://www.ipacific.com/owens/leroy/robeson.html (last visited ) http://www.bayarearobeson.org/Chronology_7.htm (last visited ) http://www.folkera.com/probeson/index.html (last visited ) http://www2.scc.rutgers.edu/njh/PaulRobeson/Activist/PRFreedom.htm (last visited )

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