- Blues Notes, July 2006
PRAISING PEACE: A TRIBUTE TO PAUL ROBESON
Posted July 3, 2006
Leon Bibb and Eric Bibb
Stony Plain Records
The 20th Century ushered in the information age, but in that respect it was divided: those who belonged to the latter half of its popular culture and those in the former.
The former, characterized by technological limitations and cultural repressions, has been poorly served by history. While the current generation of teens, tweens and kids may still remember who Britney Spears was 30 years and even the Beatles from 40 years ago, chances are good few of them have been exposed to America's earlier musical influences.
In that respect, Paul Robeson was a giant figure. As with many Pan-African nationalists, Robeson immersed himself in Marxism and socialism as possible answers to the divide between black and white classes in America, and even sang a celebrated concert in Moscow. With that, the man who popularized Ol' Man River in Showboat! condemned himself in the eyes of right-wingers, and was eventually blacklisted during Joe McCarthy's communism witch hunts of the early 1950s.
Robeson's greatest wish was for an inclusive world, in which people respected each other's differences and worked together on common benefits.
He performed gospel about the mistreatment of blacks, of workers, about the connections between happiness and spirituality and about the need to overcome the greed and avarice that, for all its other positives, continually and disgracefully underscores capitalism, as unresponsive as it remains to the frailties of the human condition. He spoke tireless and publicly about such issues, and made enough enemies that, in large respect, his iconic place as a great American has been denied him.
To that end, Vancouver-based singer and activist Leon Bibb is joined by his now more-famous son, bluesman Eric Bibb, in memorializing the ways Robeson chose to live and to express his commitment to freedom.
None of these cuts will replace the originals, and the Bibbs would be the first to tell anyone. But this does stand as a testament to how important such an investigation could be for the many people who would do well to live by Robeson's example.
- Jeremy Loome