Skip to main content

Basso Profundo

June 2024
1min read

Paul Robeson

directed by Lloyd Richards, starring James Earl Jones, Kino Video, 118 minutes

Even before he gave Darth Vader his rumbling menace in the Star Wars films, James Earl Jones had one of the world’s most familiar voices. His great challenge in this one-man off-Broadway show was to use it to make his audience hear the even deeper and nearly as recognizable voice of Paul Robeson. He succeeded. Jones takes you on a fascinating twohour tour through an unparalleled life, telling the story of Robeson’s rise from perfect minister’s son to Rutgers’s first African-American football star, frustrated young lawyer, Broadway actor, singer, movie star, exile, worldrenowned concert singer, and civil rights advocate, a man repudiated for his opinions and accepted again only late in life. The script is full of his humor and articulate anger. It passes lightly over his Cold War defense of the Soviet Union, implying that in a kinder age he would have been entitled to even his most radically naive opinions.

The production is spare, filmed pretty much as audiences saw it almost twenty years ago. No one else can sing the way Robeson did, but Jones does very well.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.