Treading the boards
Robeson’s left-leaning political views might have enriched his artistry in some minds, but they hindered what he could accomplish in a vengeful America. He made his name in the theater, appearing first in works by Eugene O’Neill, then as Crown in the premiere of “Porgy and Bess” (1927). In 1928, he created Joe in the London debut of “Show Boat” (1928), singing “Ol’ Man River,” which would forever be associated with him. Between 1930 and 1960, he appeared to great acclaim in three productions of Shakespeare’s “Othello” and was a notable presence in a host of mostly undistinguished movies. A seasoned concert performer, he sang the world over, including Soviet Russia, which in part accounted for his troubles.