The son of a runaway slave who became a minister, Robeson graduated first from Rutgers (1919), where he was an All-American football player, and then from Columbia Univ. law school (1923). He began his acting career in 1924 with the Provincetown Players. With a resonant voice and the ability to project a humane spirit, he won wide acclaim with his creation of the title role in Eugene O'Neill's Emperor Jones (1925; film, 1933). Other outstanding dramatic performances include Crown in DuBose Heyward's Porgy (1928) and Othello (in London, 1930, and New York, 1943–45). In 1925 he made his debut as a concert singer. Possessed of a magnificent bass voice, he became known especially for his rendition of “Ol' Man River” in Jerome Kern's play Show Boat (1928; film, 1936) and for his interpretations of spirituals. Robeson's association with Communist causes and his winning of the International Stalin Peace Prize (1952) made him a controversial figure in the United States. He moved to England in 1958, and continued to appear in concerts in Europe and the Soviet Union. He returned to live in the United States in 1963.
See his Here I Stand (1958); biographies by his wife (1930) and Martin B. Duberman (1988).
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