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Monday, December 28, 2015

Views and Review : 'Ol' Man River' by Paul Robeson

When I instinctively started taking an interest in philosophy,I used to often ask myself what am I first? An Indian or a student or a socialist or a human being.Mostly,the last answer seemed to soothe.Now,I know what all of us are before being anything else on earth.Fools.That is what we are.I do not know if it is necessary to be foolish but we tend to believe what people explain us.In school,they made me study 'The Diary of A Young Girl' and I had to study it,in the meanwhile learning nearly NOTHING about what was done to the original owners of the United States of America,knowing nothing about KKK,knowing nothing about the apartheid movement except a little paragraph about Nelson Mandela.Not even a month ago,when I read the Mississippi had flown with more blood than we are ever capable of imagining,that of a number that we fail to estimate today.The genocides of both the aboriginal people and then the business of slavery.I am convinced that this had been worse in the past because what we have witnessed later is so brutal,it is not difficult to determine what must have happened a century ago.There are documents to prove it but the subsequent murders,the very formation of the KKK and the predominance of whites in the American media starkly prove what has been and what is it today.The Mississippi still flows,almost unaffected.

'Ol' Man River' Lyrics
(Credit :

[Elongated Intro:]
Here we all work 'long the Mississippi
Here we all work while the white folk play
Pullin' them boats from the dawn till sunset
Gettin' no rest till the judgment day

Don't look up and don't look down
Ya don't dast make the white boss frown
Bend your knees and bow your head
And pull that rope until you're dead

Let me go 'way from the Mississippi
Let me go 'way from the white man boss
Show me that stream called the River Jordan
That's the old stream that I long to cross
[End Of Intro]

Ol' Man River, that Ol' Man River
He must know somepin', but he don't say nothin'

He just keeps rollin', he keeps on rollin' along

He don't plant taters, and he don't plant cotton
And them what plants 'em is soon forgotten
But Ol' Man River, jest keeps rollin' along

You and me, we sweat and strain
Bodies all achin' and wracked with pain
Tote that barge and lift that bale
Ya get a little drunk and ya lands in ja-ail

I gets weary and so sick of tryin'
I'm tired of livin', but I'm feared of dyin'
And Ol' Man River, he just keeps rollin' along

[final 2 notes linger for 11 seconds]

(Photograph Source)

About The Song
(Credit : Wikipedia)

"Ol' Man River" (music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II) is a song in the 1927 musical Show Boat that contrasts the struggles and hardships of African Americans with the endless, uncaring flow of the Mississippi River; it is sung from the point of view of a black stevedore on a showboat,and is the most famous song from the show. Meant to be performed in a slow tempo, it is sung complete once in the musical's lengthy first scene by the stevedore "Joe" who travels with the boat, and, in the stage version, is heard four more times in brief reprises. Joe serves as a sort of musical one-man Greek chorus.

Beginning about 1938, and continuing on to the end of his career, Paul Robeson changed a few of the lyrics of "Ol' Man River" when singing it at recitals, though never in actual stage performances of Show Boat, and not in the 1936 film version. (In addition to the 1928 and 1932 stage productions as well as the 1936 film version, he appeared in a Los Angeles stage revival in 1940). Except for the change of the word "niggers" to "darkies," the lyrics of the song as Robeson performed it in the 1936 film version of the show remain exactly as Oscar Hammerstein II originally wrote them in 1927. However, after 1938, Robeson would record the song only with the lyrics that he used in his post-1936 concert recitals.

In the 1978 one-man play Paul Robeson, by Phillip Hayes Dean, there is a (perhaps fictitious) reference to the change in the lyrics - an unseen interviewer asks Robeson (played by James Earl Jones) about the original lyrics, and he responds "No, I don't sing it that way anymore".

In the 1951 film version of Show Boat, as well as the 1962 studio recording and the 1966 Lincoln Center revival of the show, William Warfield sang only the introductory verse and the lyrics to the main section of the song, and omitted what could be considered a controversial section, in contrast to both Jules Bledsoe (who sang it in the prologue to the 1929 film version) and Robeson (who sang the whole song in the 1936 film). The section that Warfield omitted begins:

Niggers all work on de Mississippi,
Niggers all work while de white folks play...

In the 1936 film, the word "niggers" was changed to "darkies". Ever since the 1946 revival, the term has been changed to "colored folks", although there have been revivals that change the lines to Here we all work on de Mississippi,/ Here we all work while de white folks play. Al Jolson sang a version starting with "lots of folks work on the Mississippi." Also, the phrase "feared of dyin' " (rather than "skeered of dyin' ") has been sung in some recordings,notably Lawrence Tibbett's 1930s version, Gordon MacRae's 1950s version (first heard on The Railroad Hour), and Frank Sinatra's 1946 performance, first heard in the film Till the Clouds Roll By.

Song Review

I had listened to the Bengali version of the song,'O Ganga Tumi',which translates to 'You,River Ganga'.The song was about floods that has riddled the heart of Bengal with death,sorrow and pain.The song was beautifully sung by Bhupen Hazarika.Many days later,when I listened to 'Ol' Man River',I was awestruck to find out it was originally sung by Paul Robeson.Robeson's deep,bassy voice is a common favourite among many people (except maybe who still embrace Justin Bieber's super feminine voice.Also,this guy supports KKK.) and for myself,I really like it.Though it has not got the refinement a soprano has,there is extremely refined vocal resonation,good range and the relatively faster tempo of the song suits the voice perfectly.Moreover,he is Paul Robeson,just like Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan.You can't go on judging them only on the basis of their voice.
The lyrics is what makes the song what it is.The words are moving,there is beauty in the way they have been written,there is struggle,there is protest but there is no vulgarity.The melody is satisfying.Overall,I really love what the song is in totality with all its components compiled together.

Here goes the scores - 

Lyrics - 5/5
Instrumentals - 4/5
Melody - 5/5
The voice behind - 5/5

As a song - {(19/20 * 100)%} = 95%

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