The internationally celebrated singer and actor Paul Robeson, an outspoken activist, first distinguished himself as an athlete and academic at Rutgers University, where he was class valedictorian. After graduating from Columbia Law School he practiced law, but racism led him to leave the field. He found success singing and acting, which he had pursued during his student days, and traveled the world. Famous roles include Jim in Eugene O’Neill’s “All God’s Chillun Got Wings”, Brutus in “The Emperor Jones”, the title role in Shakespeare’s “Othello”, and Jim in the musical “Show Boat.” In the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein musical, Robeson performance of “Ol’ Man River” turned him into one of the most popular concert singers of the day. At the height of McCarthyism, the U.S. government investigated Robeson, who openly supported Soviet Russia and expressed anti-colonialist sentiments. The U.S. State Department refused to issue him a passport in 1950, and both his career and income suffered considerably. After his passport was restored in the late 1950s, Robeson toured abroad before health issues led to his retirement in 1963 in Philadelphia—where he remained until his death in 1976.
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