1931 through 1939

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Paul and Eslanda, 1931.


( 1931 through 1939 )

January 18, 1931 | January 31, 1931| February 13, 1931 | February 26, 1931 | February 27, 1931   March, 1931 | March 22, 1931 | April 16, 1931 | August 8, 1931 | January 18, 1932    
February 1, 1932
| May, 1932 | June, 1932 | July 31, 1932 | 1933 | August, 1933 | 1934  
 December 20, 1936 to January 6, 1935 | January 15, 1935 | February-March, 1935 | May 9, 1935  July, 1935 | September, 1935 October 27, 1935 | 1936 | January 12, 1936 | March 1936 
 August, 1936 | August 8, 1936 | December 1936 to January 1937 | 1937-40 | 1937  
  February 7, 1937 April, 1937 | June, 1937 | June 24, 1937 | July, 1937  
  September-December, 1937 | November 25, 1937 | December 19, 1937 | January 23, 1938  February 1938 | February 13, 1938 | April 8, 1938 | June 12, 1938 | June 14, 1938 | June 27, 1938  August-December 1938 | December 1, 1938 | August, 1938 | December 7, 1938 | 1939  
  January, 1939 | January 10, 1939 | January 26, 1939 | February 1939 
February 15, 1939 | April 1939 | April 14-20, 1939 | April 30, 1939 | May 15, 1939 | June 1939  June 4, 1939 | July 1939 | July-August, 1939 | July 1, 1939 | August, 1939 | September, 1939  September 30, 1939 | November 5, 1939 | December 31, 1939 | Bibliography



1931  
  Appears in British Who's Who (Has never been listed in Who's Who in America). 
 
 

January 18, 1931
Begins 2-month US concert tour, with opening at Town Hall, New York City, expanding his repertoire to include Russian, Irish, English and other folk songs.

January 31, 1931
Gives concert for 2,205 at Orchestra Hall, Chicago.


February 13, 1931
Returns to London, briefly, to give concert at Royal Albert Hall.

February 26, 1931
Gives concert of Negro spirituals, accompanied by Lawrence Brown, at Dreamland Auditorium, San Francisco.

February 27, 1931
Gives concert of Negro spirituals and classical songs at Auditorium Theatre, Oakland, CA.

March, 1931
Makes first concert appearance in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.


March 22, 1931
Gives concert of mostly Negro spirituals at Carnegie Hall.

April 16, 1931
Is guest soloist, with the 700-member Westchester (NY) Negro Choral Union, in a concert of spirituals in White Plains. In an interview with The New York Times, explains that the importance of this chorus is that “in the effective organization of so large a body of Negro spiritual singers lies in the hope of preserving the unique contribution of [the] race to the music of America.” (Foner)

August 8, 1931

His article, “Thoughts on the Colour Bar” appears in the British weekly The Spectator, as part of a series on the subject. In its introduction, the journal notes: “Our object in publishing this series is to attempt some explanation of why the Colour Bar exists, and to emphasize the importance of the problem for the British Commonwealth.” (Foner)

January 18, 1932

Gives concert of folk songs at Town Hall, New York City.

February 1, 1932
Performs benefit concert as fundraiser for the Helping Hand Community Day Nursery, Chicago.


May 20, 1932

Opens in revival of Shoe Boat, at the Casino Theatre, on Broadway.  Plays for three months.  Stars in revival of Show Boat on Broadway.

June, 1932

· Performs benefit concert for Harlem branch of Children’s Aid Society.
· Receives Honorary Master of Arts degree from Rutgers University.

July 31, 1932

Gives concert at Lewisohn Stadium, New York.

March 12, 1933
Opens in a three-week run of All God's Chillun Got Wings at Embassy Theatre, London, followed by another four weeks at the Piccadilly Theatre, where he gives a special benefit performance for Jewish refugees from nazi Germany. Years later, states that this benefit marked the beginning of his political awareness because, in reference to the Hitler regime, “Really, it was like seeing the Ku Klux Klan in power….Brown shirts instead of white sheets, but the same idea.”

May, 1933
Stars in his first “talkie,” The Emperor Jones. The film is criticized for perpetuating stereotypes.


1934

· In January, embarks on extensive tour, with accompanist Lawrence Brown, throughout the British Isles.  

·William L. Patterson, tells Robeson of struggle around the Scottsboro Defendants and urges him to help in fight for Negro causes.

·In June, publishes article, "The Culture of the Negro", in The Spectator, London.

· Summer. Makes film Sanders of the River, in Africa, but is later enraged by the addition, without his knowledge, of scenes glorifying British imperialism in South Africa, and denounces film as “pure Nordic bunk.”  Seeks to purchase all copies of the film in order to prevent its distribution.  Numerous working class and liberal organizations call for boycott of the picture.  In an October 5, 1935 interview in the Amsterdam News, states, "To expect the Negro artist to reject every role with which he is not ideologically in agreement is to expect the Negro artist under our present scheme of things to give up his work entirely."

December 20, 1934 to January 6, 1935

 Makes first visit to Soviet Union, at invitation of Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, to discuss making film on life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, leader of Haitian slave rebellion, and to observe the situation of minorities in Soviet Union, where he is warmly welcomed by Russians from every walk of Life.  Comments: "Here, I am not a Negro, but a human being….Here, for the first time in my life, I walk in full human dignity.”

January 15, 1935
"I Am at Home, Says Robeson at Reception in Soviet Union," interviewed by the Daily Worker, London.


February-March, 1935

Makes another concert tour of Europe and the British Isles.

May 6, 1935

In London, opens in Stevedore, play about Black-white labor unity, which had appeared in New York in 1934. With this London performance, with the British Labor Unity Theatre, Robeson’s move toward an identification with the working class takes a giant step forward.

July, 1935

In an interview with New Theatre, states: “The Negro folk songs and African music strongly resemble Eastern and Russian music.”

September, 1935

Returns to US to make Hollywood film production of Show Boat.

October 27, 1935

In an interview with the New York Herald-Tribune, states: “I believe it would be a good thing for the American Negro to be more conscious of his African tradition, to be proud of it. Africa has contributed great culture to the world, and will continue to do so.” (Foner)

1936

· January. Returns to London. Records prologue and theme song for Joseph Best’s documentary film on South Africa, Africa Looks Up (released in US as My Song Goes Forth).

· Stars in two British movies, filmed in West Africa, Song of Freedom and King Solomon’s Mines, in which Blacks are treated with dignity.

· Film Show Boat opens internationally; receiving praise in mainstream media but criticism from Black press and leftists.

January 12, 1936

In an interview with the New York Herald-Tribune, condemns Fascist Italy’s invasion and occupation of Ethiopia and expresses his “faith in Africa….I feel that the people of the African continent will seek out their own destiny.” (Foner)

March, 1936
Sponsored by the Stage Society, in London, plays Toussaint L'Ouverture in "Black Majesty," a play about the Haitian revolutionary. 


August, 1936

*Is interviewed by Rev. Father J.C. O'Flaherty, in West African Review.
*Goes on concert tour in the Soviet Union, singing in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev and Odessa

August 8, 1936
Writes article, "Primitives," in The New Statesman and Nation, London.

December 1936 to January 1937
Takes vacation in Soviet Union, to improve his Russian and to perform a concert tour.  Visits Soviet Asia and the Caucasus; is very impressed by social, economic and cultural progress of racial minorities in these formerly "backward" areas.  Years later, in reference to the Soviet Union, he would state:  "There I found the real solution of the minority and racial problems, a very simple solution:  complete equality for all men of all races.  I was struck by the quick success of all groups in taking part in modern civilization, once they were given a chance.  Eskimos and people from Turkestan, who had always been called primitive and backward, took their place as citizen workers.  In a few years, they became efficient in every phase of modern life, even in building and handling machinery.  I saw with my own eyes that people are not 'backward' because of colour, but because they are kept back."


1937-40

Maintains hectic pace of political appearances, lending his name and talent to myriad organizations and events, among them the Spanish Aid Committee, Food for Republican Spain Campaign, the National Memorial Fund (for British members of the International Brigades), the Labor and Trade Union Movement, the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement, the League for the Boycott of Aggressor Nations, the Coloured Film Artists’ Association, the Society for Cultural Relations.

1937

· January. Co-founder, with Max Yergan & Dr. Alphaeus Hunton, and Chairman of Council on African Affairs, one of the first, and for many years the only, anti-Apartheid and anti-imperialist organization in the US, formed to aid national liberation struggles in Africa. Over the next eighteen years, Robeson devotes much of his time and talent in advancing the Council’s work of mobilizing Americans, Black and white, in support of Africa’s liberation from Western imperialist bondage. The Council’s monthly bulletin, New Africa (later called Spotlight on Africa) becomes a primary source of accurate information on Africa, both within the US and internationally.

· Performs in two British films, Big Fella and Jericho (released in the US as Dark Sands).  For the production of Jericho, goes to Egypt, finally satisfying a long time dream of setting foot on African soil.

· Is voted the most popular singer by British radio listensers.

February 7, 1937

In radio interview with the Sunday Worker, broadcast from Moscow during concert tour of USSR under auspices of Moscow State Philharmonic, states: “When I sing the ‘spirituals’ and work songs of the Negro people to Soviet audiences, I feel that a tremendous bond of sympathy and mutual understanding unites us. The Russian folksongs and those of the Soviet National Republics, which were formerly Czarist colonies, bear a close relationship to folksongs of the Negro people. In each instance, these songs were born of the misery and suffering, exploitation and oppression of the people. This oppression made the name of old Russia synonymous with the term ‘prison house of nations.’” (Foner)

April, 1937

Gives concert at Victoria Palace, London, to aid homeless women and children in Spain.

June, 1937

Initiates a fund for the relief of the dependents of African Americans fighting in defense of democracy in Spain.

June 24, 1937

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.

July, 1937

While vacationing in USSR, attends many cultural performances of various Soviet nationalities and performs at several events for the cause of the Spanish Republic.

September-December, 1937

Continues to appear in concerts in several European cities for the cause of the Spanish Republic.

November 25, 1937
Sings at opening of the new Unity Theatre, London.


December 19, 1937

At rally of 9,000 at Royal Albert Hall, London, in support of “arms, food and justice for democratic Spain,” brings down the house when he changes words of “Ol’ Man River” from “You gets a little drunk and you lands in jail; but I get weary and sick of tryin'; I’m tired of livin’ and feared of dyin’” to “You show a little grit and you lands in jail; but I keep laughin' instead of cryin'; I must keep fightin’ until I’m dyin',’” thus converting the song from a lament into one of proud protest. Makes three other appearances within the same month on behalf of the anti-fascist struggle in Spain.

January 23, 1938

Despite the dangers, goes to Spain to sing for troops of International Brigades volunteers and Spanish Loyalists and in hospitals, lifting the spirits of the men and women who are risking their lives for an ideal---the defeat of fascism. (It has been told that on the battlefield at Teruel, the shooting stopped for one hour while fighters on both sides sat and listened to him sing and speak on radio from Madrid, his voice booming via loudspeakers across the battle lines. While the story is apocryphal, one can easily imagine how it got started.) Linking the struggle against fascism in Spain to the cause of oppressed people everywhere, he says, “My songs come from the lips of the people of other continents who suffer and struggle to make equality a reality. To me, Spain is another homeland, because the people of this country are opposed to racial and class distinctions.” Is interviewed by distinguished Afro-Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén, for Cuban radio and newspapers.

· When asked by Guillén why he came to Spain, Robeson replies: “My devotion to democracy. As an artist, I know that it is dishonorable to put yourself on a plane above the masses, without marching at their side, participating in their anxieties and sorrows, since we artists owe everything to the masses, from our formation to our well-being. And it is not only as an artist that I love the cause of democracy in Spain, but also as a Black. I belong to an oppressed race, discriminated against, one that could not live if fascism triumphed in the world. My father was a slave, and I do not want my children to become slaves….During these last months I have worked a great deal in London, singing to raise funds to send to the Spanish people and I will continue doing it, not only there, but everywhere that I and able to do it.” (Foner)  It is at this time that the US State Department begins spying on Robeson's activities and recording his statements regarding Spain.

February, 1938
Returning to England to begin a year-long tireless campaign on behalf of the Spanish Republic, stops in Paris to give speeches and a radio interview.  Back in England, appears at numerous events for the Spanish cause, throughout the British Isles, often performing at two fund-raisers in a single day or at one of these benefits following a professional performance with the Celebrity Series Concerts.  

February 13, 1938
Gives benefit concert for the International Peace Campaign, at Covent Garden, London.

April 8, 1938

Sings at 20th Century German Art Exhibition, in London, as benefit for German artists banned by Hitler.

June 12, 1938

Gives benefit concert for Emergency Youth Peace Campaign, at Empress Hall, London organized by the League of Nations Youth Groups.

June 14, 1938

Opens in Plant in the Sun, play dealing with sit-down strikes and union organizing in US, produced by Unity Theatre, under auspices of British Labour Party. This path-breaking effort towards the creation of a workers' theatre is highly praised by the London press.  He performs for no fee, stating, "I could get a very high salary in London....But the West End is decadent because it does not reflect the life and struggles of the people."  He contrasts that to working with the Unity Theatre, "which means identifying myself with the working class.  And it gives me a chance to say something I want to say."

June 27, 1938

Speaks in support of India’s independence from British rule, at welcome rally for Jawaharlal Nehru, at Kingsway Hall, London.

August-December, 1938
Abandons the Celebrity Series Concerts because they reach only middle-class audiences.  Begins to sing instead in large music hall and cinema palaces with low admission prices, where he can perform for working people.  No other singer of Albert Hall stature has ever appeared before on such humble stages, considering it beneath their dignity.  But Robeson is gratified to give three performances daily for working class audiences.

December 1, 1938
Sings and speaks at a rally sponsored by the Spanish Relief Center of the Cambridge University Peace Council.


December 7, 1938
Sings at memorial meeting of 7,000, to honor 33 fallen Welsh members of the International Brigades in Spain and to welcome home the surviving contingent at Mountain Ash Pavilion, Cynon Valley, South Wales.  Prior to singing, Robeson tells the audience,  "I am here tonight because, as I have said many times before, I feel that the struggle we are waging for a better life, the artist must do his part.  I am one of an oppressed race and am here because these fellows fought not only for Spain but for me and the whole world.  I feel it is my duty to be here."

1939
· Helps to register Black voters in Birmingham, AL.
· Writes the Foreword to Uncle Tom’s Children: Four Novellas, by Richard Wright. (Foner)

· Addresses founding convention of United Public Workers of America (UPWA) and over next twelve years attends many of their national and local meetings throughout the U.S.

January, 1939

Begins concert tour of the British Isles;  is greeted everywhere by huge crowds and honored with civic awards, receptions and ceremonies.

January 10, 1939
At Empress Hall, London, sings to 10,000 paying tribute to the 543 British men and women who died in Spain and to the survivors of the two British battalions.  Funds raised benefit the widows and orphans of the volunteers who lost their lives fighting for Republican Spain.

January 26, 1939
Joins 150 top American musicians in signing a letter to President Roosevelt asking him to end the arms embargo against the Spanish Republic because it serves "to aid the forces of aggression and international lawlessness."

February, 1939
Sings at London's Comedy Club for the annual dinner of the Society for Cultural Relations between the Peoples of the British Commonwealth and the USSR.

February 15, 1939

Gives concert for the League for the Boycott of Aggressor Nations, at Suffock Galleries, London.

April, 1939
Participates in week-long peace festival, "Music for The People," at Royal Albert Hall, London.


April 14-20, 1939

Performs to enthusiastic crowds in Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm, where he turns concerts into anti-nazi demonstrations.

April 30, 1939

Performs at May Festival Concert, sponsored by the Society for Cultural Relations Between the Peoples of Great Britain and the USSR, at Queens Hall, London.

May 15, 1939

Makes 3-month visit to US to continue fighting against Fascism and racism on his home ground.  His experiences abroad, with workers in many countries, have transformed him from a performer into a true people's artist, dedicating his talents to the cause for social justice.  Almost immediately enters the national struggle on the side of labor, which brings him cheers from the workers but nets him the everlasting enmity of Big Business.

June, 1939
Stars in a week-long revival of The Emperor Jones, at the Ridgeway Theatre in White Plains, NY, demanding that the "n" word be deleted from the script:  "Either that, or I won't play in it."


June 4, 1939

In an interview with the Sunday Worker, explains why he is planning to return home soon: “Certainly in my travels in many countries of Europe, particularly in Spain, and having been close to the struggles of China, Ethiopia and the West Indies, I have seen and recognized the essential unity of this international fight for democracy and against fascism….Having helped on many fronts, I feel that it is now time for me to return to the place of my origin—to those roots which, though embedded in Negro life, are essentially American and are so regarded by the people of most other countries….It is my business not only to tell the guy with the whip hand to go easy on people, but also to teach my people—all the oppressed people—how to prevent that whip hand being used against them.”

July, 1939

·  In an interview published in all the black weeklies and the July-August issue of TAC, magazine of the Theatre Arts Committee, when asked what prompted his decision to return to the US to live, he replies, in part:  "I've learned that my people are not the only ones oppressed.  That it is the same for Jews or Chinese as for Negroes, and that such prejudice has no place in a democracy.  I have sung my songs all over the world, and everywhere found that some common bond makes the people of all lands take to Negro songs, as to their own....{A]ll oppressed people cry out against their oppressors....[These experiences] have made me come home to sing my songs so that we will see that our democracy does not vanish.  If I can contribute to this as an artist, I shall be happy." (Foner)

·  Gives benefit concert in Greenwich Village, for the Spanish Refugee Relief Campaign.  The event is sponsored by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.  Robeson is joined on stage by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Helen Hayes, Gypsy Rose Lee, Orson Wells, Sam Jaffe, Al Jolson and other celebrities.

·  Participates in a symposium on "Spanish Culture in Exile," at the Roosevelt Hotel, NYC, sponsored by the Spanish Refugee Relief Committee.  Following the symposium, performs a concert of folk songs of America, Spain and the Soviet Union, all sung in their original languages.

July 1, 1939

Gives recital to 1,500 jammed into Mother AME Church in Harlem where brother, Rev. Ben Robeson, is pastor.

August, 1939

Refuses to open in John Henry in Washington DC because theater is segregated. Opens in New York instead. Also plays in Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

September, 1939

Returns to London to star in the film Proud Valley, story about an unemployed African American who lands a job in the Welsh coal mines and shares the struggles of the miners for a better life. Much of the film is shot in the mining villages of Wales, with real houses and streets and people. During production, Robeson and the other members of the crew live with the miners who worked with them on the film. Several years later, Robeson states that of all his films this is the one which gives him the most satisfaction because it depicts the lives of workers in a realistic and sympathetic light.

September 30, 1939

Ends ten-year residence in London; sails for US. Aboard ship, refuses request to sing for first-class passengers, but accepts request to sing for the crew at a union meeting. Returns home to join the struggle for full equality for all African Americans. States that he will not sing before segregated audiences.

November 5, 1939

Performs world premiere on CBS Radio of Ballad for Americans, with the American People's Chorus, music by Earl Robinson, libretto by John La Touche, generating one of the largest audience responses of any performance in the history of radio and yielding Robeson nationwide acclaim. The 600 people in the CBS studio respond with a 15-minute standing ovation of thunderous applause and cheers. The 11-minute cantata, with its fervent cry against racial discrimination and persecution of all kinds, and celebrating the multi-ethnic, multi-racial face of America, injects a new concept into American music which electrifies the country: CBS is inundated with phone calls, thousands of letters and telegrams demanding the words, musical recording and a repeat broadcast.  The cantata's popularity reaches such a wide range that, in an ironic twist, it is used as the theme song at the Republican National Convention in the fall of 1940.

December 31, 1939

Responding to popular demand, gives repeat performance of Ballad for Americans on radio. Then records it for Victor Records, with Earl Robinson's 100-voice American People's Chorus; it instantly soars to top of charts, selling over 40,000 copies in the first year, and remains a big seller throughout the 1940s. The piece develops a life of its own, with performances by high school and university glee clubs, community choruses, children's choruses, church choirs, Black, white and Jewish, around the country. Teachers play the recording to encourage tolerance in their students; MGM puts it into their film Born to Sing; Lawrence Tibbett performs it on NBC Radio; Bing Crosby records it on Decca, his version selling another 20,000 copies. The piece gains such popularity that, in an ironic twist, and in spite of its anti-racist message, it is used as the theme song at the June 1940 Republican National Convention. In the 1960s, Odetta records it.

 


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