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In 1928, Robeson took Britain's audiences by storm, as plantation slave Joe, in the Drury Lane premiere of Showboat.
Showboat was revolutionary. It abandoned the light-hearted musical comedy tradition to tell the story of American history. Instead it featured a Black and white cast singing in harmony, and explored the themes of inter-racial marriage, alcoholism, desertion and poverty.
Showboat's show-stopping anthem, Ol' Man River, about the Mississippi River was written by Oscar Hammerstein II especially for Paul Robeson. It is a song that has become associated forever with Robeson's moving and charismatic voice.
Challenging as the play's themes were, Robeson altered some of the lyrics later on:
"Tote that barge and lift that bale,
Git a little drunk and ya lands in jail,
I git weary and sick of tryin'
I'm tired of livin' and scared of dyin'."
"Tote that barge and lift that bale,
You show some grit an' you lands in jail.
I must keep laughin' instead of cryin';
I must keep fightin' until I'm dyin'."

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