STOGIE AMIR KENYATTA AS THE LATE GREAT PAUL ROBESON (Photos by Rossano P. Stewart)
by Genea L. Webb
For New Pittsburgh Courier
In Stogie Kenyatta’s opinion, Paul Robeson “is the most unique Black man born in America.”
That’s why the Jamaican-born, New York-bred, seasoned actor decided to create the inspiring one-man show “The World is My Home—The Life of Paul Robeson.” The production, which Kenyatta said took him about 12 weeks to write, chronicles the inspiring life story of singer, actor, athlete, lawyer and activist Paul Robeson.
The show, which has earned the number one spot on the United States and Caribbean College Circuit, was brought to Pittsburgh by T. Rashad Byrdsong, founder and CEO of the Homewood-based Community Empowerment Association earlier this month.
“I saw the performance in Chicago and it was excellent,” Byrdsong said. “Look at the courage, consistency and perseverance that Robeson had is a story untold. Robeson is someone you didn't read about in public history books. He personifies the African-American struggle.”
The son of a runaway slave, Paul Leroy Robeson was born in 1898 in Princeton, N.J.
Although his mother died when he was five years old, Robeson's exceptional talents were noticed by his parents early on and thus nurtured by his father. He was awarded a scholarship to Rutgers University and became an All American Football Player and Valedictorian of his class. After graduating from Rutgers, Robeson went to Columbia School of Law. He attended law school while playing in the NFL.
He was unable to practice law due to racism and decided to denounce his law aspirations because of it.
Robeson became a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance and performed in such productions as Eugene O'Neill’s “All God’s Chillun Got Wings,” and “The Emperor Jones." He became a cinematic star with his role as the title character in “Othello” to critical acclaim in Britain and made waves on the American theater scene in “Showboat,” “Sanders of the River” and “Bosambo.”
Robeson was the first Black performer to play Othello in Britain since Ira Aldridge. He was internationally known as the 10th most popular star in British cinema.
Thirteen years after playing “Othello” in The United Kingdom, Robeson opened “Othello” on Broadway. The show became the Great White Way's longest running play.
He fought for anti-imperialism and criticized the United States government for its treatment of Negroes. As a result, Robeson was blacklisted during the McCarthyism era.
Robeson died at the age of 77 in Philadelphia.
In “The World Is My Home—The Life of Paul Robeson,” Kenyatta played 12 to 13 characters including Robeson’s father, his beloved wife, Essie, Robeson as a 5-year-old child and an old man. Kenyatta has said this play is the most challenging of his career.
“This is much harder than comedy. It’s easy to get me to laugh, but it’s hard for me to play a woman or a child. The training technique takes over and I really have to project because there is no microphone,” Kenyatta said.
“I hoped that people would see that we have persevered in such a dignified and glorious way. African-Americans are the most resilient and extraordinary race of people on planet earth. Look at the pain and heartache we went thorough and we are still standing.” Kenyatta said.
Kenyatta was classically trained at the Afro American Studio in Harlem, Henry St. Settlement and Al Fann Ensemble. He was a finalist in the New York state Theatre Competition and he studied Screenwriting and Political Science at California State Long Beach. He has garnered more than 30 television credits from sitcoms, to films to soap operas. On the comedic side, Kenyatta co-headlined a USO tour in Tokyo and Okinawa. Kenyatta currently resides in Los Angeles.
“The World Is My Home—The Life of Paul Robeson” has been performed at more than 200 colleges and universities including Yale and The University of the West Indies.
“I knew a little bit about Paul Robeson in high school, but I got interested in him because I look like him and I believe we come from the same tribe,” Kenyatta said.
The production was a hit among the CEA audience as audience members approached Kenyatta following the show shaking his hand, clasping him on the back and clamoring to get his autographs or picture while telling him what a moving performance he gave.
“I’m glad everyone was here to support this effort to bring art and culture back to the Black community,” Byrdsong said. “Culture is the people’s roadmap. Paul Robeson was a famous athlete, writer poet and actor during the time that Blacks were being lynched. He stood for peace and justice and he became known as a citizen of the world and he challenged racism. He was a champion of working people.”
Kenyatta agreed with Byrdsong’s assessment of Robeson.
“We have great singers, actors and speakers. Paul Robeson was all of that rolled into one. Ain’t nobody bad like Paul Robeson,” Kenyatta said.
(For more information on “The World is My Home-The Life of Paul Robeson,” visit www.paulrobesononemanshow.com.)
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