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Concert Last Night...
[Report On Last Night's Paul Robeson
Athlete, actor, activist: To many,
'this was a hero'
BY JAY LUSTIG
Pop star Whitney Houston hasn't made many public appearances lately, but she was
there last night for the Paul Robeson tribute at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
"Why I stand here today is because of Paul Robeson," Houston said after speaking
about being inspired by his voice and versatility. She then sang two numbers, a brief, a
cappella version of the "Porgy and Bess" ballad "I Loves You, Porgy,"
and the inspirational "You'll Never Stand Alone."
The "Voice for the Millennium" tribute at the Newark theater was a multimedia
with one of the biggest crowd-pleasing moments coming from a vintage film segment of
Robeson himself singing "Ol' Man River" in his memorable bass baritone.
Audience members donned 3-D glasses for a "fantasy film" segment in which an
actor playing Robeson visits Harlem's Cotton Club and sings "Danny Boy" with
backing by Duke Ellington on piano.
Robeson, born in Princeton in 1898, was a singer, actor, athlete and political activist.
Paying tribute to Robeson's theatrical career, Avery Brooks acted out several scenes from
"Othello" on film, and James Earl Jones read from the Eugene O'Neill play
"The Emperor Jones."
Show-stopping numbers included "Jesus Is A-Listening" by the Marble Collegiate
Community Mass Choir and Angela Bofill's dramatic interpretation of "God Bless the
Child." Sam Harris drew a standing ovation for his equally dramatic version of Simon
and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," though no attempt was made to
connect the song to Robeson's life.
Jazz musician Branford Marsalis, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, classical musician
Denyce Graves and the Dance Theatre of Harlem all took to the stage to salute
Robeson with their performances.
Houston's mother, Cissy Houston, closed the show by singing a song she wrote for the
occasion, called "This Day." Backed by two gospel choirs, she sang such
uplifting lines as: "Starting right here, starting right now, let's do our best to
make a brighter world."
The concert was preceded by the first Paul Robeson Humanitarian Awards Dinner, a
projected annual affair, in the ballroom of the Robert Treat Hotel.
Awards were presented to eight people from fields reflecting Robeson's many talents and
pursuits and included former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and hip-hop guru Russell
Simmons. Arista Records chief executive L.A. Reid was also honored, and returned the favor
by giving the New York-based Paul Robeson Foundation $25,000.
Afterward, Paul Robeson Jr., 72, quoted words his father wrote in 1936 that he said apply
to our times: "Beneath the accidents of race and culture which divide us lies the
soul of man."
Former Gov. Tom Kean, president of Drew University in Madison, was another of the
honorees. "In a time when we are crying out for heroes, this was a hero," Kean
said. "At a time when he should have been at his lowest ebb, persecuted and
prosecuted by our own government for simply speaking his mind, Robeson refused to be
bitter. In a concert he broadcast over cables from a church in Harlem to a hall in London,
because our government denied him a passport to travel, Robeson quoted the great Chilean
poet Pablo Neruda, telling his listeners, 'I have come to pound on your heart with love.'
Robeson, the son of a former slave, displayed a range of accomplishments during his life
that seemed almost superhuman. Rutgers University's valedictorian speaker in 1919, he went
on to be inducted into the National College Football Fall of Fame; earn a degree from
Columbia University's law school; and receive a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement. He
starred on Broadway and in films, mastered a dozen languages (and was able to sing in
about 10 more) and supported many political and social causes, including civil rights.
Last night's show, organized by the Robeson foundation, was taped for broadcast on PBS in
March. Proceeds from ticket sales will benefit inner-city students at Rutgers University
in Newark and the Paul Robeson Foundation Educational Mission, which educates people about
"We're going to realize a lot more than money, a lot of good exposure and increased
awareness of Paul Robeson from this event," said William Pickens II, president of the
foundation, who estimated that the evening would raise well over $100,000 for his
The foundation recognizes that most Americans know little about Robeson.
Last night's event was the first major Robeson tribute to take place in his home state.
Previous Robeson Foundation events were held in New York.
"He's a son of New Jersey, and now he's come back home," Robeson's son said at
the beginning of the concert.
It was a high-priced show, with the cheapest tickets costing $75. The highest-priced ones
($1,000) admitted holders to the preshow awards dinner at the nearby Robert Treat Hotel.
The show's biggest attraction was the first appearance at NJPAC by Whitney Houston since
she canceled a July 1999 concert there at the last minute. The East Orange native and
Mendham resident said at the time that she had throat problems. The show was never
Houston had a personal reason to support the tribute concert. Her father, John Houston,
was Robeson's godson.
NEWSFILE: 29 NOVEMBER 2000
[Two Reports Addressing Recent
Whitney & Bobby: Talk About 'The Rumors'
(Newark, New Jersey-AP) -- Bobby Brown says all the talk about his wife Whitney Houston
and rumors of drug abuse are just "garbage." Brown addressed the subject after
performing with Houston at a tribute to legendary performer Paul Robeson. It was one of
the couple's few public appearances since a marijuana possession charge against her in
Hawaii was resolved this month. Asked about the talk of drug use, Brown said he didn't
even want to discuss the subject because the rumors were "garbage." And, Brown,
said Houston's performance at the Robeson tribute should put such talk to rest. Brown said
anyone who saw Whitney perform at the tribute would know -- quoting here -- "ain't
nothing wrong with her." During the performance, Houston sang two songs -- one a
cappella -- from the play "Porgy and Bess," in which Robeson had starred. Brown
also performed, singing his hit "Every Little Step," with Houston singing
backup. He was the only artist on the tribute who didn't perform a song connected to
Robeson or his era. But, then again, as his wife often reminds us, he IS the king of
Whitney, Bobby Pay Tribute To Paul Robeson
(Newark, New Jersey-AP) -- Bobby Brown says the rumors of Whitney Houston's drug use are
untrue. Brown and Houston performed Tuesday at a tribute to Paul Robeson. Brown says he
doesn't even want to discuss the talk about Houston because it's "garbage." He
says anyone who saw Houston perform would know there's nothing wrong with her. Houston
sang two songs from the play "Porgy and Bess," in which Robeson had starred.
Brown performed his hit, "Every Little Step." He was the only one who did not
perform a song from Robeson's era -- and he performed in a leather skirt.
NEWSFILE: 30 NOVEMBER 2000
MTV: Paul Robeson...
Whitney, Bobby Sing At Robeson Tribute
NEWARK, New Jersey A Houston family reunion highlighted the
nearly four-hour "Paul
Robeson: Voice for the Millennium'' concert Tuesday night at the New Jersey Performing
Whitney Houston, her husband Bobby Brown and her mother, Cissy Houston, all performed in
the show, which paid tribute to the Princeton, New Jersey-born Robeson and raised funds
for Robeson-inspired charities.
The younger, Newark-born Houston, wearing a form-fitting, olive-green evening dress with a
matching, dyed fox stole, complete with face and tail, sang an a cappella snippet of
"I Loves You, Porgy'' before delivering a moving rendition of "You'll Never
Her father, John Houston, was Robeson's godson.
"As I was growing up [my grandmother] told me of this
wonderful, wonderful man, who could do anything, anything, from sports to academics to
singing,'' Houston said from the stage. "I didn't believe at that time that a black
man could ever, ever do that, and I understand that why I stand here today is because of
Much of the evening's excitement centered on her. The concert, attended by approximately
1,800, was one of the singer's few public appearances since a marijuana possession charge
against her in Hawaii was resolved earlier this month.
Houston later sang backup for Brown as he performed his hit "Every Little Step.''
Brown wore a leather jacket and leather skirt.
"I'm a little crazy with my skirt!'' Brown said, as the audience cheered.
Cissy Houston closed the show with soaring rendition of a gospel song called "This
Day,'' written especially for the occasion. She was backed by two gospel choirs.
Along with the Houstons and Brown, singers Angela Bofill, Denyce Graves, Sam Harris and
Melba Moore, actors Avery Brooks, Ossie Davis, James Earl Jones and Lynn Whitfield, the
Dance Theater of Harlem, jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis, salsa pianist Eddie Palmieri,
the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Marble Collegiate Community Mass Choir and Paul Robeson
Jr. participated in the multimedia event, which was taped for a March airing on PBS.
Other highlights included Bofill's torchy version of "God Bless the Child.'' Bofill
wore a gray dress with a black top, and she sashayed toward the front of the stage as the
Duke Ellington Orchestra played behind her.
"[Robeson] opened doors for all of us as entertainers and black entertainers,
Bofill said backstage after her performance. "He broke down a lot of boundaries.''
The Marble Collegiate Community Mass Choir thrilled the audience with its vocal control on
"Jesus Is A-Listening,'' and Davis and Jones read passages from Robeson's speeches.
Brooks, who has long been associated with Robeson, acted in a filmed montage of one of
Robeson's stage triumphs, "Othello.'' The audience donned special glasses for a 3-D
movie, "A Harlem Fantasy.''
Before the show, the Paul Robeson Humanitarian Awards dinner was held across the street
from the arts center at the Robert Treat Hotel. Honorees included LaFace Records
co-founder and new Arista Records chief executive L.A. Reid.
"Paul Robeson felt that art was a solvent to racism, and I think his life's work is
exemplified in today's entertainment business,'' Reid said, after receiving his award.
"You have artists like Eminem, who top the urban charts, and artists like Jay-Z, who
popular charts. So the lines of racism have been blurred largely due to the life work of
Paul Robeson. It encourages me every day.''
At the dinner, Reid, who said he's just moved to New York, said he and Arista donated
$25,000 to the New York-based Paul Robeson Foundation.
Robeson (1898-1976) was an athlete, scholar, singer, actor and humanitarian, whose
activism on behalf of civil rights, anti-colonialism and the Soviet Union drew controversy
in his lifetime.
Proceeds from the concert, for which tickets ranged from $75 to $1,000, will benefit
inner-city students of Rutgers University in Newark and the Paul Robeson Foundation
Educational Mission, which teaches people about Robeson's life.
More On Paul Robeson...
Robeson tribute a serious good time
The Star-Ledger Newark, NJ
Tuesday night's Paul Robeson tribute at NJPAC in Newark had a dual purpose: to educate and
to entertain. It lost its focus at times, but ultimately did deliver on both promises. A
unique event, it offered both state-of-the-art show biz and solemn lectures. Actors Ossie
Davis and Avery Brooks read Robeson's inspirational words.
Paul Robeson Jr. discussed his father's legacy, and Robeson himself
made a dazzling appearance via film, singing Ol Man River in his deep, resonant voice,
every note conveying a sense of steely determination. There was some discussion of his
achievements. Host actress Lynn Whitfield got caught up in the grandeur of the evening
when she declared that as an actor, he was equal to Denzel Washington. As an athlete he
was in the class of Michael Jordan. As a singer, he was as popular as Pavarotti. And
as an activist, he was in the league of Martin Luther King Jr.
The event, which was taped for broadcast in March on PBS, was
primarily an all-star concert, and most of the performers, in their brief moments on
stage, rose to the occasion. The evening's most famous participant, Whitney Houston,
wasn't at her best, but didn't flop either. First she treated the crowd to an
all-too-brief a cappella excerpt from the Porgy and Bess classic, I Loves You, Porgy. Then
she sang You ll Never Stand Alone, the soaring, Diane Warren-written ballad from her 1998
album, My Love Is Your Love. Her voice was a little shaky, but she conveyed enough
heartfelt emotion to sell it. She also reappeared, briefly, to sing backing vocals for her
husband, Bobby Brown, during his Vegas-like performance of his 1989 hit, Every Little
Step. A glittery curtain, used for his segment only, seemed a bit tacky. Brown s voice was
gruff but commanding and, dressed in a long leather skirt and jacket, he showed off some
nifty dance steps. But it wasn't clear what this song or his other number a cover of the
soul-searching Leon Russell ballad, A Song For You had to do with Robeson.
The Houston clan had a huge presence in this show, which made
sense, since Robeson was the godfather of Whitney's father, John Houston. Young dance
students at the Whitney E. Houston Academy of Creative and Performing Arts in East Orange
demonstrated what they've been learning, directly before Houston's set. Whitney's mother,
Cissy Houston, wrote a new, uplifting song called This Day for the occasion; she sang it
as the evening's grand finale, with backing from two gospel choirs, the New Hope Gospel
Youth Choir and the Marble Collegiate Community Mass Choir.
The Marble Collegiate Community Mass Choir, performing on its own,
made one of the biggest impressions of the evening, with its tight teamwork on Jesus is
a-Listening. The song concluded with a series of lines that ended abruptly, then started
again just as suddenly; no one missed a beat. Melba Moore offered a stirring, theatrical
version of Ballad For Americans. Angela Bofill sang God Bless the Child with
larger-than-life passion, but didn't know when to stop, and ended up seeming a bit
overwrought. Sam Harris suffered from the same problem on a dramatic, crowd-pleasing
version of Simon & Garfunkel s Bridge Over Troubled Water. Again, the relevance of
this song to Robeson's life never became clear. Other performers in the marathon
(31/2-hour) show included representatives from the worlds of jazz (Branford Marsalis,
Eddie Palmieri), classical music (Denyce Graves) and dance (the Dance Theatre of Harlem).
The Duke Ellington Orchestra served as a kind of house band, ably backing many of the
performers, and also opened the show with a swinging version of Elllington s Take the A
A 3-D fantasy film a fictional visit by Robeson to Harlem's Cotton
Club (where he ended up singing Danny Boy, with Ellington accompanying him on piano) was
clever but silly. Some of the shots of a champagne bottle's cork hurtling toward the
camera, for instance, and the Robeson character raising a glass in the same direction were
there only because they looked cool in 3-D. It s hard to imagine an artist who radiated as
much dignity as Robeson looking kindly on something so gimmicky.
Proceeds from the show, whose tickets ranged from $75 to $1,000,
will support efforts by the New York-based Paul Robeson Foundation to educate people about
Robeson s life, and aid inner-city students at Rutgers University, which counts Robeson
among its most famous alumni.
Branford Marsalis performs at the Paul Robeson tribute at the New Jersey Performing
NEWSFILE: 1 DECEMBER 2000