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The Paul Robeson Legacy - Gramophone


03 June 2002
Gramophone
Andrew Lamb

As crossover ideas go, the idea of Willard White singing songs of Paul Robeson is an excellent one. Both are, or where, outstanding black basses of their times, with a following in both serious and popular musical fields. White's voice may not have the depth, richness and sonority of Robeson's; but it is at least as finely tuned and beautiful an intrument, and perhaps more intelligently used.

Various difficulties arise in a tribute such as this, not least that Robeson's repertory covered a range of styles, not all of which will appeal to everyone. It's just my luck that the theatre and film songs in which I personally admired Robeson are completely missing in favour of African-American spirituals (seven of the twelve items), which are not really to my tast. Then there's the question of how faithful one attempts to be to the original. One cannot simply copy the original orchestrations. But will lovers of Robeson's songs be happy with an accompaniment of jazz trumpet, drums, keyboards, double bass and guitar? On the whole I think thae answer to this is 'yes'. Neal thornton's modestly jazzy arrangements are sufficiently supportive for anyone fancying 45 minutes of easy-on-the-ear songs to enjoy. Those who want "The Essential Paul Robeson" should go for the ASV Living Era double album of that title; but it's probably the finest tribute to this new collection that one soon forgets Robeson and simply enjoys Willard White.


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