Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Paul Robeson Sings in Yiddish - "How Does the Czar Drink Tea?"


Paul Robeson was an American bass baritone concert artist and stage and film actor who became famous both for his cultural accomplishments and for his political activism.

In 1928, Robeson played "Joe" in the London production of the American musical Show Boat.  His rendition of Ol' Man River became the benchmark for all future performers of the song.

His political activities began with his involvement with unemployed workers and anti-imperialist students whom he met in Britain and continued with support for the Loyalist cause in the Spanish Civil War and his opposition to fascism. 

In the United States he also became active in the Civil Rights Movement and other social justice campaigns. His sympathies for the Soviet Union and for communism, and his criticism of the United States government and its foreign policies, caused him to be blacklisted during the McCarthy era.  

Robeson sang in more than 50 languages and became fluent in more than 10. Although he never achieved complete fluency in Yiddish, he was comfortable speaking and reading it.

As Cantor Sheldon Foster Merel wrote in the San Diego Jewish World this week,
By chance someone just sent me a link to a recording by Robeson in Yiddish. This is a new one, for me. I further learned he had recorded several Yiddish songs and often included them in his concerts.
He began studying Yiddish informally at Columbia University and made several trips to Poland and the Soviet Union where he could speak Yiddish with Jewish activists, poets, and Soviet anti-fascist groups.
He admired poetry of the Yiddish poet Itzik Fifer and visited him while he was languishing in prison.  At a concert in Russia, although Robeson was instructed not to sing any Yiddish nationalistic songs, he nonetheless in defiance sang the Yiddish Partisan song Zog nit keyn mol.  The concert was heard on radio by millions of listeners around the world.
One of the songs that Robeson sang in Yiddish was the old folk song Vi azoy lebt der keyser? (How does the czar live?)

Enjoy!

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2 comments:

  1. What a wonderful voice. Would love to hear more of his songs.

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  2. There is a CD of his Concert in Moscow with him singing the "Partisaner Song" in Yiddish to the Russian audience at the end of the concert.

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