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Here is the beginning of Encyclopedia.com’s profile of the multi-talented Paul Robeson, one of the most important figures — musical and otherwise — of the twentieth century:
Paul Robeson—singer, actor, civil rights activist, law school graduate, athlete, scholar, author— was perhaps the best known and most widely respected black American of the 1930s and 1940s. Robeson was also a staunch supporter of the Soviet Union, and a man, later in his life, widely vilified and censored for his frankness and unyielding views on issues to which public opinion ran contrary. As a young man, Robeson was virile, charismatic, eloquent, and powerful. He learned to speak more than 20 languages in order to break down the barriers of race and ignorance throughout the world, and yet, as Sterling Stuckey pointed out in the New York Times Book Review, for the last 25 years of his life his was “a great whisper and a greater silence in black America.”Born in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1898, Robeson was spared most of the daily brutalities suffered by African Americans around the turn of the century. But his family was not totally free from hardship. Robeson’s mother died from a stove-fire accident when he was six. His father, a runaway slave who became a pastor, was removed from an early ministerial position. Nonetheless, from his father Robeson learned diligence and an “unshakable dignity and courage in spite of the press of racism and poverty.” These characteristics, Stuckey noted, defined Robeson’s approach in his beliefs and actions throughout his life. (Continue Reading…)
The above video of of Robeson singing Ol’ Man River in Showboat – which was written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II – is the best known clip of Robeson. Below, Robeson sings Vi Azoy Lebt der Kayser? (How Does the Czar Drink Tea?). The song, sung in Yiddish, satirizes Czarist Russia. More information, including a translation, is provided here and here.
Both the music and the text of Peter and the Wolf, which was an effort to teach children about orchestras and instill a love of music, were written by Sergei Prokofiev. It was released in the Soviet Union in 1936. This version, narrated by actor Sterling Holloway, is perhaps the most famous of many because it was produced and released as a Disney cartoon. It was part of the 1946 animated feature Make Mine Music.
Here is more on Prokofiev:
In breathing new life into the symphony, sonata, and concerto, Sergey Prokofiev emerged as one of the truly original musical voices of the twentieth century. Bridging the worlds of pre-revolutionary Russia and the Stalinist Soviet Union, Prokofiev enjoyed a successful worldwide career as composer and pianist. As in the case of most other Soviet-era composers, his creative life and his music came to suffer under the duress of official Party strictures. Still, despite the detrimental personal and professional effects of such outside influences, Prokofiev continued until the end of his career to produce music marked by a singular skill, inventiveness, and élan. (Continue Reading…)
Prokofiev died on March 5, 1953 — the same day as Josef Stalin. Part I of Peter and the Wolf is above and part II is below.
Above, of course, is Judy Garland and Fred Astaire singing Irving Berlin’s Easter Parade, from the 1948 movie of the same name. Below, the Philadelphia Biblical University Institute of Jewish Studies’ class of 2000 sings the Passover song Dayenu.
Burl Ives, who had one of the great voices of the twentieth century, was identified with old ballads and other forms of Americana. He was a folk singer, but not in the mode of the protest music that arose during the 1960s.
Above he sings A Little Bitty Tear alone and is joined by Johnny Cash for a medley on the latter’s show.
Ives also was an accomplished actor. Since there isn’t too much video of him singing, I’m embedding a scene featuring Ives and Paul Newman from the film version of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It’s evident that Ives was a talented guy.
Dennis Potter was an English screenwriter/playwright known for mixing fantasy and reality. His best known works — Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective — were BBC productions. The method is the same: The drama is interrupted by the cast spontaneously breaking into elaborately choreographed productions numbers that use scratchy recordings of contemporary pop tunes, to which they lip sync. The songs hint at the underlying tensions and sadness of the lives of the characters, as if they are coming from their unconscious. Potter at the same time is commenting on the growing influence of the media in everyday life, even then. It’s hard to describe other than to say that it’s brilliant.
The title character of The Singing Detective suffers from a horrific skin disease — as Potter did — and spends his days hallucinating from a hospital bed. The lead character of Pennies From Heaven (played in the BBC production by Bob Hoskins, who retired earlier this year after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease) is a traveling sheet music salesman. Steve Martin played the role in the American production, which got mixed reviews.
The song in the clip below starts at about the 6 minute mark.
This Day in Music History notes that the sound track of the great spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly was number one on the U.K. charts on this day in 1968.
Here is The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s take on the title track. The title of the orchestra’s DVD, Anarchy in the Ukulele, hopefully won its own prize.
Also Sprach Zarathustra
As the bio below suggests, Eumir Deodato is by far best recognized for his version of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But his career obviously goes far beyond that great and agonizingly slow movie.
Widely regarded as one of the most respected and sought-after musicians in the music world, Brazilian-born Eumir Deodato has racked up 16 platinum records to his credit as artist, arranger or producer with combined sales of well over 25 million records in the USA alone. His discography, including compilations and all his work as arranger, producer and keyboardist, surpasses 450 albums. He has also had the honor of performing with the St. Louis Symphony (which backed him on his superb Artistry album), the Cincinnati Symphony, the New York Philharmonic and the Orchestra di Musica Leggera dell’Unione Musicisti di Roma. In addition, several artists over the years have covered his songs, including George Benson, Lee Ritenour, Sarah Vaughan and The Emotions to mention just a few. And yet, in spite of all of his varied triumphs, honors and distinctions over the years, the multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist will probably forever be associated with one song – his innovative rendition of Richard Strauss’ classical opus Also Sprach Zarathustra (or more commonly known as the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey).
Here is the classical versions of Also Sprach Zarathustra and Rhapsody in Blue (featuring Leonard Bernstein). A bit of trivia: Deodato’s daughter is married to the actor Stephen Baldwin, according to Facebook.
Rhapsody in Blue