For The Robeson Songbook: A Negro Spiritual and Gospel Celebration of the Music of Paul Robeson…
“I shall take my voice wherever there are those who want to hear the melody of freedom or the words that might inspire hope and courage in the face of fear. My weapons are peaceful, for it is only by peace that peace can be attained. The song of freedom must prevail. – Paul Robeson”
The Riverfront Historical Society could not have chosen a more impressive artist than Keith Spencer or a more notable personage than Paul Robeson to help us commemorate Juneteenth, June 19, 1865, the date when President Lincoln declared that “all men are free…” thus, releasing the last remaining enslaved Americans from bondage. With The Paul Robeson Songbook: A Negro Spiritual and Gospel Celebration of the Music of Paul Robeson, Keith Spencer brings to life the deeply felt emotions of an encumbered, trodden people, who manage to hold fast to their intensely held faith, hope, and courage, despite the fear and obstacles they faced day after day, decade after decade. Spencer’s beautiful, captivating voice and his theatrical talent allow him to move easily from the painful yearnings of “Steal Away” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”, to the reverence of “Give Me Jesus” and “There is a Balm in Gilead”, to the assured jubilance of “If I Got My Ticket” and “Counting My Blessings”.
Spencer’s deeply melodic and musically expressive, resonant voice filled our sanctuary and we were transported to a different time. Many in our audience commented about how they were moved to tears, as they rejoiced in hearing the gospel and spiritual selections sung in the churches of their childhood and by beloved relatives of past generations. They were equally complimentary of the exquisite performances of Mark Yurkanin, on piano, and Claudia Pellegrini, on violin, who provided the perfect accompaniment and were in perfect step with Spencer’s brilliant execution of the Robeson Songbook. This repertoire embodies the sentiment of Robeson’s quote listed above. Many thanks to Keith Spencer for creating this program, thus assuring Paul Robeson’s dream that, “The song of freedom must prevail.”
Audrey Henry, M.D., Juneteenth Coordinator
Riverfront Historical Society