Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dominique-René de Lerma: 'Black, Brown & Beige #5 -- Paul Robeson, all-American patriot'

Paul Robeson in 1942 (Wikipedia)

Florence Beatrice Smith Price (1887-1953) was an African American composer, arranger and teacher who was the first African American woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra. Florence B. Price is profiled at, which features a complete Works list by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma,

Dominique-René de Lerma writes:

                 Although the first half of Bill McGlaughlin's Exporing music on NPR featured Florence Price's piano concerto and E-minor symphony, what seemed most relevant to me today was triggered by the voice of Paul Robeson.
              Being outspoken and "uppity", he was the target of the right-wing radicals who sought to depose him.  He was on the enemy list (along with Martin Luther King) of J. Edgar Hoover, the ruler of the FBI for whom a building in Washington is named [!].  His powerful, deep, resonant, authoritative voice told Joseph McCarthy's infamous Committee on Un-American Activities that his people built the country and he had as much right to it as anyone else.  His unpopularity was encouraged when he appeared in Othello, cast -- as Shakespeare designated -- as the husband of a White lady at a time mixed marriages were outlawed in the United States.  Yes, he was on good terms with the Soviet Union like so many intellectuals before World War II, but he did not reject that relationship after the Soviets fought with the British, French, and Americans against the Nazis, not because of politics, but because he was accepted there as a man.  He gave what might have been the first recital consisting only of spirituals, and included in his repertoire the music of the world's people, singing their songs in their own languages.  At the end of his career, when the Supreme Court finally agreed with the Constriction's guarantee of free speech, he sang the following credo at the Mother A.M.E. Zion church, eliciting cheers from the congregation when he emphasized the words underscored in the text below.

What is America to me? A name, a map, the flag I see,
a certain word, "Democracy"! What is America to me?

The house I live in, a plot of earth, a street,
The grocer and the butcher and the people that I meet
The children in the playground, the faces that I see;
All races, all religions, that’s America to me.

The place I work in, the worker at my side
The little town or city where my people lived and died,
The "howdy" and the handshake, the air of feeling free,
The right to speak my mind out, that’s America to me.

The things I see about me, the big things and the small,
The little corner newsstand and the house a mile tall;
The wedding and the churchyard, the laughter and the tears,
The dream that’s been a growin’, for a hundred-fifty years.

The town I live in, the street, the house, the room,
The pavement of the city, or a garden all in bloom,
The church, the school, the club house, the million lights I see,
But especially the people, that’s America to me.

The house I live in, my neighbors, white and black,
The people who just came here, or from generations back,
The Town Hall and the soap box, the torch of Liberty,
A home for all God’s children, that’s America to me.

The words of Old Abe Lincoln, of Jefferson and Paine,
Of Washington and Jackson, and the tasks that still remain,
The little bridge at Concord, where Freedom’s fight began,
Our Gettysburg and Midway, and the story of Bataan.

The house I live in, the goodness everywhere,
A land of wealth and beauty with enough for all to share,
A house that we call Freedom, the home of Liberty,
And it belongs to fighting people, that’s America to me.

Dominique-René de Lerma

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