Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was one of the most truly gifted stage performers of the twentieth century. He was a talented athlete, a brilliant student (valedictorian of his 1919 Rutgers graduating class and a graduate of Columbia University law school), a renowned Shakespearean actor, and a world-class operatic baritone. He also starred in stage shows and films and was a tireless champion for civil rights and equality. Though some of his efforts were misguided (Robeson, like so many other intellectuals, was duped into believing that Stalin was creating an egalitarian utopia in the Soviet Union) he eventually became one of the most widely recognized and lauded figures in the American civil rights movement.
Needless to say, filling Robeson's shoes is a demanding task, but with The Paul Robeson Legacy
, Jamaican-born Sir Willard White
accomplishes the task admirably. Classical fans will know Willard White from the critically-acclaimed comprehensive recording of "Porgy and Bess" released by EMI Records a few years ago. This CD evolved from White's popular concert program entitled "An Evening With Willard White - A Tribute To Paul Robeson. White's rich, smooth bass-baritone voice is a good fit for Robeson's repertoire, and he is backed by a swinging, gospel-tinged jazz quintet led by pianist Neal Thornton.
The idea of an opera singer accompanied by a jazz group may seem unusual, but it should be remembered that Duke Ellington often used this setting in his concerts. White includes Duke's "Mood Indigo" in this set, along with Hoagy Carmichael's "Lazy Bones" and a seldom-revived 1920's hit "Got The South In My Soul." Of the dozens or perhaps hundreds of period songs written about longings for the South, this song is one of the best and White & co. serve it up without any of the hammy sentimentality usually reserved for such material.
Robeson often included traditional folk songs in his repertoire, particularly for use on European concert tours. This CD contains the beautiful Scotch tune "Eriskay Love Lilt," which became one of Robeson's favorites while he resided in Britain during the 1930's.
Of course, the majority of the tracks on this CD are traditional American spirituals, several of which should be recognizable to virtually any listener. White has mastered this material fully, and the richness of his voice and the exactness of his phrasing perfectly compliment the superb rhythm section and trumpet solos of Guy Barker.
As a product of Linn Audio, it goes without saying that the sound on this CD is superb. Audiophiles who own the proper equipment will also enjoy the hybrid advanced SACD/HDCD features on this disc.
Although this CD may be marketed only to somewhat of a niche audience, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I would highly recommend it to anyone - particularly those interested in traditional African-American music and spirituals, or in twentieth century American popular song.