‘Ol’ Man River,’ Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson in "Show Boat."

Paul Robeson played Joe and sang “Ol’ Man River” in the 1936 film version of “Show Boat.”

It’s safe to say that no one has ever lived a life quite like Paul Robeson’s. Born and raised in Princeton and educated at Rutgers College (now Rutgers University) in New Brunswick, he was an all-American football player, received a law degree while playing in the National Football League, and then became one of the country’s most popular singers and actors, as well as a Civil Rights activist. He was also a controversial figure because of his positive views on Communism. A member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and the American Theater Hall of Fame, as well as the winner of a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award, he died in 1976, at the age of 77.

Musically, he is remembered most for his inimitable bass voice; for helping to bring African-American spirituals to the attention of concert audiences all over the world; and for his powerful performance of “Ol’ Man River” in the 1936 film version of the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II musical, “Show Boat.” Check it out below.

New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday last year. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we are marking the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, for almost a year — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. We started in September 2014, and will keep going until Sept. 8, 2015.

If you would like to suggest any songs to be included, please let me know in the comments section underneath the video. And if you want to see the entire list, either alphabetically or in the order the songs were selected, click here.

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