When Paul Robeson came to SudburyPaul Robeson gave his first concert out the United States in Sudbury in 1956, after the American government lifted the travel ban on the renowned singer whose politics were not in favour in the McCarthy era.Spring 2012The Mine Mill hall hosted numerous cultural events in the 1950s: big city entertainment for a small town.
Entertainers included Pete Seeger, The Travellers and Paul Robeson.
According to late labour leader and local politician Mike Solski, Robeson gave his first concert out the United States in Sudbury in 1956, after the American government lifted the travel ban on the renowned singer whose politics were not in favour in the McCarthy era.
Oryst Sawchuk remembers. “I saw Robeson on the Mine Mill Stage. I recall his powerful presents on the stage, cupping his ear so that he could hear himself as he sang. There were husking miners posted around the hall in case goons were there to disrupt the concert but he was warmly greeted, and as a result, I suppose, if the goons were there they didn’t show themselves.
“Paul sang from his repertoire of songs including his version of Old Man River and its powerful call for resistance against oppression. But he didn’t, as I recall, responded the the cry for an encore from the audience of mostly miners and their families to sing “Sixteen Tons…, and what do you got etc.” that was currently popular at he time with the singing of Tennessee Williams.
He was quoted as saying. “ My art…. is a weapon in the struggle for my people’s freedom and for the freedom of all people”.
Information about Robeson’s visit can be found in“Mine Mill, The History of the International Union of Mine Mill and Smelter Workers in Canada Since 1895” by Mike Solski and John Smaller (1985).
Paul Leroy Robeson (April 9, 1898 – Jan. 23, 1976) was an American bass-baritone concert singer, recording artist, athlete and actor who became noted for his political radicalism and activism in the civil rights movement. The son of an escaped slave, Robeson was the first major concert star to popularize the performance of Negro spirituals and was the first black actor of the 20th century to portray Shakespeare’s Othello on Broadway.
A nationally renowned football player from 1917 to the early 1920s, Robeson, who was 6’3” was an All-American athlete, Phi Beta Kappa Society laureate during his years at Rutgers University. In 1923, Robeson drifted into amateur theater work and within a decade he had become an international star of stage, screen, radio and film. Robeson would go on to be a recipient of the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal, the Stalin Peace Prize and of honorary memberships in over half a dozen trade unions. James Earl Jones, Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte have cited Robeson’s lead film roles as being the first to display dignity for black actors and pride in African heritage. Though one of the most internationally famous people of the 20th century, blacklisting during the Cold War has largely kept Robeson out of some mainstream interpretations of history.
At the height of his career, Paul Robeson chose to become a political artist. In 1950, Robeson’s passport was revoked under the McCarran Act over his work in the anti-imperialism movement and what the U.S. State Department called Robeson’s “frequent criticism while abroad of the treatment of blacks in the US.