Song of Freedom (August 17, 1936)
Released on August 17, 1936: Paul Robeson is a worker on the docks of London with a song in his heart that takes him back to the small island of his ancestors.
Directed by J. Elder Wills
Written by Claude Wallace, Dorothy Holloway, Ingram D'Abbes, Fenn Sherie, Philip Lindsay and Michael Barringer.
The Actors: Paul Robeson (Johnny Zinga), Elisabeth Welch (Ruth Zinga), Esme Percy (Gabriel Donozetti), Robert Adams (Monty), James Solomon (native leader), Tony Wane (mandingo), Ronald Simpson (Mr. Blane, pianist), George Mozart (Bert Puddick), Jenny Dean (Marian), John Fred Emney (Nell Puddick), Bernard Ansell (Sir James Pyrie), Johnny Schofield (unknown), Ambrose Manning (trader), Arthur Elliott (unknown), Cornelia Smith (Queen Zinga), Sydney Benson (gate keeper), Alf Goddard (Alf the bartender), Will Hammer (potman), Arthur Williams (Endobo, the witch doctor).
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Papa was a Pentecostal, 'holy roller' preacher in the small towns of western Pennsylvania, and possibly my greatest and fondest memories from childhood are the wonderful and amazing songs that we sang in church. I not only enjoyed singing the songs in church, but to this day, so many decades later, while I am quietly working on my computer I find myself singing, humming or even whistling the church songs of my childhood. Now, don't get me wrong, I cannot sing well enough that anyone else would appreciate it . . . any talents that I have sadly do not include musical abilities. But when I listen to swing music from the 1930's and 1940's from the big bands and the singers of the time I cannot sit still. My feet start tapping and my body sways gently to the beat of the music, and it is the same with the church songs of my childhood. I have very little knowledge of great music, and even less skill at performing any music, but music is still in my soul so deeply that it cannot be extinguished.
In this provocative thriller from Britain filmed in 1936 Paul Robeson has a song in his heart. Robeson is working on the docks of London and has a voice of a mighty singer. He is the grandson of a slave brought from a small island off the western coast of Africa two generations ago, and he has a song in his heart, a song that keeps bubbling to the surface even though he knows not where it comes from. He also has a golden medallion passed down from his grandfather that he always wears with great pride. One day he is discovered by a great Italian opera producer who takes him out of the docks and gives him great riches to sing for the wealthy of London. After his first performance he is begged for an encore from the audience and he sings the song in his heart . . . the song that keeps bubbling to the surface . . . and he longs to understand what it is and from whence it came. An old explorer in the audience remembers hearing the same song long ago, and Robeson discovers that it is the song of the King of the island of Casanga off the west coast of Africa. Pop a big bowl of white kernel popcorn with warm melted butter on it and travel with Paul Robeson and his wife, played by Elisabeth Welch, to the land of his ancestors where he will find trouble and disaster in his home town village.
Alf Goddard as the bartender at the local sing song
Arthur WIlliams as the village witch doctor
Arthur Williams in Song of Freedom
Bernard Ansell as Sir James Pyrie
Cornelia Smith as the evil Queen Zinga of the Island of Casanga
Ecce Homo Toto as Mandingo in Song of Freedom
Elisabeth Welch and Paul Robeson in Song of Freedom
Elisabeth Welch and Paul Robeson at home in London in Song of Freedom
Elizabeth Welch as Ruth Zinga in Song of Freedom
Esme Percy meets Paul Robeson and Elisabeth Welch
Esme Percy and Jenny Dean
Esme Percy as Gabriel Donozetti in Song of Freedom
George Mozart and Paul Robeson in Song of Freedom
John Fred Emney and George Mozart listen to Paul Robeson singing
Joan Fred Emney as Nell Puddick in Song of Freedom
London Bridge in 1936
Paul Robeson sings and plays piano in the British pub
Ronald SImpson as Mr. Blane the pianist