No Pretty Songs, Gentlemen

Casita Maria Center for
Arts and Education
The Bronx, NY
August-September 2012

Paul Robeson (1898 – 1976), was an African American singer and actor, an All-American football player, and a graduate of Columbia Law School. In the mid-1940s, when he was one of the highest paid concert performers in the world, Robeson announced that, for the next few years, he would sing only for the rights of his people. “No pretty songs, gentlemen,” he told the press, “No pretty songs. Time for some full citizenship.”

In June of 1949, after travelling to Moscow, Robeson made public statements praising the lack of discrimination in the Soviet Union. In September, he scheduled a concert to benefit the Civil Rights Congress at Peekskill, New York. Protesters, critical of Robeson’s pro-Soviet stance, picketed the concert, carrying signs that read, “Wake Up America, Peekskill Did.” Crosses were burned and a likeness of Robeson was lynched. Labor union members formed a human shield around Robeson to protect him while he sang. As the concert ended and the crowd dispersed, the protesters attacked, injuring 140 concert-goers.

No Pretty Songs, Gentlemen is a social- pedagogical project, created over the course of twelve days, in collaboration with New York City High School students: Ellie Abrams, Amber Alicea, Samantha Estrada, Olga Lebedeva, Bill Martinez, Callum Shaw, Jennifer Veras,
and Ilia Widman.

For more information on the historical events, start here.

The five videos that comprised the show are included here, as is an audio slideshow about the show produced by the online newspaper, Bronx Ink.