Robeson on Old Man River -- the dirt.

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So there were two versions. Version a sez "get a little drunk and you go to jail" second sez "give a little lip and you go to jail" changed for proto-pc purposes. Which did robeson prefer and why? Anyone know? This seems desperately important at the moment.

Sterling Clover, Monday, 14 January 2002 01:00 (eighteen years ago) link

new answers

Sterling Clover, Monday, 14 January 2002 01:00 (eighteen years ago) link

one year passes...

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 05:24 (seventeen years ago) link

I would imagine he prefers the latter, since he altered the words himself. The first one you cite suggests that blacks go to jail for being drunk; the second suggests they go to jail for talking back. It doesn't seem proto-PC to me, insofar as I understand what you mean by that. It sounds kind of proto-civil-rights actually.

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 06:11 (seventeen years ago) link

i mean is it documented that he altered the words himself?

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 06:23 (seventeen years ago) link

What are you driving at?

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 14:03 (seventeen years ago) link

(anyone who's not heard the version of this song that sinatra sang, as a v.young man, is in for a confusing treat — post-bobbysoxer riot i think but way pre-capitol career revival... i don't know if it's "indie does ironic cover" or WHAT it is, except weird...)

mark s (mark s), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 14:17 (seventeen years ago) link

"My father's third challenge to the cultural foundations of American racism was his transformation of the immensely popular theme song of the famous musical Show Boat, 'Ol' Man River,' from a submissive lament to a defiant rebuke." - Paul Robeson, Jr.

"Nancy Sinatra has called [Sinatra's version] her favorite recording of her late father's voice."

Google says that Bing Crosby did a version in 1928.... wonder if he used the original "Niggers all work on the Mississippi"...?

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 14:39 (seventeen years ago) link

aural blackface wouldn't have been uncommon in that period, not at all, even for someone of crosby's stature (though crosby was notable in part for not following the eddie cantor/al jolson model of borrowing from black culture).

everyone on this thread should seek out the 1931 (?) version of "show boat" in which paul robeson sings this very song, beautifully.

amateurist (amateurist), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 14:50 (seventeen years ago) link

sinatra sings "here we all work..."

(also: "let me go 'way from the white man boss")

mark s (mark s), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 14:50 (seventeen years ago) link

early crosby still sounds quite like jolson, quite often, i think

actually young sinatra sounds quite like mid-period crosby, based on the track after "ol man river" on thos particular comp (what he DOESN'T sound is young)

mark s (mark s), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 14:54 (seventeen years ago) link

yeah he *sounds* like jolson sometimes but his relationship to black culture was both more aloof and more urbane.

amateurist (amateurist), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 15:18 (seventeen years ago) link

i agree: also, jolson always sang as he was on-stage, and just happened to be being recorded; crosby was one of the singers quickest to hear how armstrong was completely recasting singing to respond to recording

mark s (mark s), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 15:32 (seventeen years ago) link

al was like way old (41) when the dawn of electrical recording arrived so his style was virtually in place already. i like him though. it's eddie cantor i've never been able to appreciate. (partly b/c cantor had AWFUL material much of the time.)

amateurist (amateurist), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 15:53 (seventeen years ago) link

tracer i have no idea what i was driving at as i posted the orig thread ages ago and revived it on a "save the unanswered questions" binge.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 16:00 (seventeen years ago) link

Paul Robeson's name is on a bit of stuff here at Penn State and we all had to learn about how he altered the song during the civil rights era. I believe there was also a change in enunciation in the two version.

Anthony Miccio (Anthony Miccio), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 16:03 (seventeen years ago) link

in will friedwald's book on jazz singing, someone (white writer) asks someone (black jazzer) what they think of cantor, with i guess a too obviously cocked eyebrow, and the jazzer replies testily "a genius, obviously — what, you think black folks can't tell the diff between a great musician and terrible material?"

(that's totally a paraphrase, and possibly i got it wrong: but anyway it always stuck in my mind)

mark s (mark s), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 16:05 (seventeen years ago) link

i thought that quote was abt jolson! but the material part (which i hadn't heard) makes more sense for cantor.

Some sample cantor song titles:

I've Got the "Yes! We Have No Banana" Blues
I Love Me (I'm Wild About Myself)
I'll Have Vanilla
Those Panama Mammas
Little Curly Hair in a High Chair
If I Give Up The Saxophone, Will You Come Back To Me?

one cantor tune i like a lot is "They Go Wild, Simply Wild Over Me" which always seemed to me to anticipate Yellowman's "Mad over Me".

amateurist (amateurist), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 17:09 (seventeen years ago) link

I'm a big Robeson fan myself - I'm even more of a Sinatra fan, and have his version on a couple of albums (if they are the same version - I'll dig them out to check sometime if I remember), but this is one of those songs that seems totally owned by one person. Even if my favourite singers ever, say James Carr given the style, did it I don't think they could detach it from Paul Robeson.

Martin Skidmore (Martin Skidmore), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 20:56 (seventeen years ago) link

i think robeson's backstory gives this song major additional heft. i mean here is an ivy league grad, trained lawyer, singer/actor/athlete, playing a poor stock-character riverhand--he fully transcends the potential indignity of such a role by completely dominating the song and the play/movie when he comes along. actually the role/song was written for him although he wasn't in the original cast of "show boat."

ts: "show boat" vs. "porgy & bess" ???

amateurist (amateurist), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 21:24 (seventeen years ago) link

robeson's "ole man river" in the OK-I-think-it's-1936 movie of "Show Boat" is really moving as it occurs over a splendid montage of river/work imagery. its plagency doesn't really have much to do with the plot (it is ahem "color") but i cry every time i see it.

i have a record of paul robeson singing "the internationale" and some russian folk songs.

amateurist (amateurist), Tuesday, 10 June 2003 21:29 (seventeen years ago) link

true story: there was a lipsync contest in my school in 4th grade and me & my best friend were going to do "old man river" but then his mom told him it would be "racist" becuz of the blackfacish element i suppose but i thought it was stoopid becuz it was an anti-racist song and my dad, an old liberal thort so too.

but he pulled out and did weird al's "living with a hernia" with another friend instead & i did johnny b. goode on my own.

later in high school jm and i talked about but never actually did an ultra-angsty rendition of NIN's "hurt" for that lipsync contest.

i also sorta wanted to do bad bad leroy brown back in 4th grade but never did that, tho me & some friends did "love potion #9" for "50s day" (!) in 7th. (was that you jm? i don't remember. i remember sean tho).

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Wednesday, 11 June 2003 01:55 (seventeen years ago) link

seven months pass...
ah robeson

amateur!st (amateurist), Saturday, 7 February 2004 23:52 (sixteen years ago) link

seven years pass...

on a robeson kick tonight

you've got male (jim in glasgow), Saturday, 17 September 2011 01:59 (nine years ago) link

two years pass...

Classic, or the most talented person of the 20th century?

images of war violence and historical smoking (Dr Morbius), Saturday, 10 May 2014 09:20 (six years ago) link

Probably so, yeah.

emil.y, Saturday, 10 May 2014 13:52 (six years ago) link

six months pass...

“His life and legacy was the film I wanted to make the second after Hunger,” McQueen said, referring to his debut movie, about the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. “But I didn’t have the power, I didn’t have the juice.”

McQueen was speaking on stage in New York at the Hidden Heroes awards, organised by the Andrew Goodman Foundation, named in honour of one of three young civil rights activists murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi in 1964.

The director told the audience that he first discovered Robeson at the age of 14. A neighbour called Mr Milton used to give McQueen books and articles he thought might be of interest, and one day put a cutting about Robeson through his parents’ letterbox.

“It was about this black guy who was in Wales and was singing with these miners,” remembered McQueen. “I was about 14 years old, and not knowing who Paul Robeson was, this black American in Wales, it seemed strange. So then, of course, I just found out that this man was an incredible human being.”

things lose meaning over time (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 19 November 2014 12:52 (five years ago) link


I dunno. (amateurist), Wednesday, 19 November 2014 21:13 (five years ago) link

i tried reading that "la review of books" article but the font was so horrendous (particularly on the letter b) that i had to give up! i wish i wasn't such an oversensitive crank. :(

rushomancy, Wednesday, 19 November 2014 22:29 (five years ago) link

one year passes...

no sign of the feature film yet, but hoping to see this McQueen-Robeson thing tonight

we can be heroes just for about 3.6 seconds (Dr Morbius), Friday, 6 May 2016 16:13 (four years ago) link

wish a director i liked more was doing a robeson biopic but oh well

wizzz! (amateurist), Friday, 6 May 2016 20:07 (four years ago) link

actually there's no reason to have a biopic at all, but you can extend that to most every subject

wizzz! (amateurist), Friday, 6 May 2016 20:07 (four years ago) link

one year passes...

Simon Callow reviews a pair of new Robeson books.

ice cream social justice (Dr Morbius), Monday, 29 January 2018 16:51 (two years ago) link

one year passes...

Paul Robeson

— Noname (@noname) January 14, 2020

"you did it another way here in Australia, you had to build your accumulated wealth too ... you just came and took it!"

calzino, Tuesday, 14 January 2020 22:51 (eight months ago) link

Frozen Mug (Tom D.), Tuesday, 21 January 2020 13:13 (eight months ago) link

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