Posts Tagged ‘Paul Robeson’

This past spring I met a man in Boston Common.  He sings.

I don’t remember if he had an instrument in-hand that first meeting. Most striking were his looks and that voice. Skin as dark as night. A scraggly beard and bushy eyebrows, all white as snow.  His voice carried across the park.  A gentle rumble.  Bass, perhaps.  Imagine Paul Robeson in sound.

“Can anyone spare some change? Can anyone spare some change? Can anyone spare some chaaaaaange?”

At first I ignored him.  I generally have no spare change.  And I have mixed feelings about giving money to panhandlers.

“Can anyone spare some change? Can anyone spare some change? Can anyone spare some chaaaaaange?”

But then one day we made eye contact.  It has been ingrained that if eye contact is made with a stranger no words need be exchanged but at a minimum try to nod in greeting.  And so I did.

“Can anyone spare some … ooooh … Does anyone have a pretty smile?  Does anyone have a pretty smile?”

Ever since that moment, when our paths cross in the Common, which is not very often, he will change his song for me.

“Oh there’s that pretty smile.  There’s that pretty smile.”

I know I can’t be the only one he does this for.  I have yet to place coins in his cup, but he sure does make me feel like I brighten his day.  At some point, I shall have to tell him that the sound of his voice brightens mine.

Footnote 1:  Checkout the blog Lust & Rum by photographer Anton Brookes.  There, he shares pictures that are heartbreaking and deeply moving of the homeless on the streets of NYC.  Following his photographic journey helps remind me to keep my eyes open to those sights I might like to ignore.

Footnote 2: If you’ve not heard the voice of Paul Robeson, you can hear a sample via the following 1 minute and 22 second clip.  Enjoy.

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Recently for the first time as an adult, I saw the movie musical Showboat.  Its most famous song is “Old Man River,” sung by Paul Robeson.  If you have not heard the song as sung by him, I encourage you to listen just once.  Similarly, I encourage you to listen to Sam Cooke’s rendition of “A Change is Gonna Come.” Despite the hardships, the pain, the unbearable burdens of this life captured in these and so many other songs about the African American experience in the U.S., there is always an underlying thread of hope that one can withstand the hardship, if only to give one’s offspring a chance at a better life.

Hope is on my mind quite a bit this Sunday and not just because I’ve been listening to old songs.   I read an excellent query posed by Dave Mance III, editor of Northern Woodlands Magazine.  He asks what gives the readers of the magazine hope.  (Read more here.)  As I started to think about my answer, negro spirituals popped into my head, but so did the cover image of the book, Delia’s Tears, a book about race, science and photography in nineteenth century America.

The focus of the book is fifteen images discovered in the attic of Harvard University’s Peabody Museum in 1976.  Today, they are iconic images.  If you have ever watched a PBS program on slavery, you have probably seen the faces.  I admit I accepted the visage of these slaves without thought to who they were and where they lived.  I accepted them as representative without thinking of them as individual.  But they were individuals.  Slaves on 1850 Columbia, South Carolina plantations photographed for a revered Harvard University professor convinced that Africans were biologically inferior.  When I look into their eyes, I wonder where these individuals found hope.  I wonder where my own slave ancestors found hope as they worked in Virginia and North Carolina.

I find hope in the sunrise and sunset.  The light that leaks in through a window, that dots the midnight sky.  I know it sounds hokey but it is true.  Even if my eyes are closed, if I can feel the sun’s rays, there is something hopeful in the sensation.  And maybe that’s it, at least for me.  There’s something about simply interacting with the world — seeing the possibilities, feeling them, hearing the stories of others –that inspires a sense of one day, just maybe, that possibility might come true for me or for the ones I care about in this world.

Anyway, that’s my random musings on a sunny Sunday in Massachusetts.  Wherever you are in the world, hope you’re having a good day.


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