Opera singer's voice often compared to activist legend

KB Solomon as Paul Robeson.

KB Solomon is an opera singer and a basso profundo. That's a deep bass voice. The deepest. Think of the voice of Paul Robeson. During his 20 years as an opera singer, Solomon was often told how much he resembled the legendary singer, actor and civil rights activist.

Tonight at Pure Theatre, Solomon performs his one-man musical, "Speak of Me as I Am," about Paul Robeson's life and his fight for human dignity and justice.

A reception and historic marker unveiling honoring Robeson's connection to Charleston will take place after the opening night performance. A seminar on race, religion and justice is scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday at Pure Theatre.

"The theme of my show is how Paul is returning from the other side to speak to the people of the U.S.," Solomon said. He created the show seven years ago; this is the first time it will be seen in Charleston. "The true power of a nation can be found in standing in solidarity for peace. I decided to use my art as a tool for social justice. (Robeson) discovered something I believe is yet to be rediscovered. There is more profit from making peace."

Born in 1898, Robeson was the son of a former slave. He went on to become an Ivy League scholar, an attorney, a college All-American and NFL football player, stage and screen actor, opera singer and civil and human rights activist. He abhorred fascism and social injustice, and his anti-imperialist stance, Communist affiliations and criticism of the U.S. government caused him to be blacklisted during the McCarthy era.

His wife Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson had family roots in Charleston; her father was a South Carolina politician and once the pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, whose parsonage stood at 32 Bull St.

Robeson visited Charleston in 1948 to campaign for Henry Wallace when he ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket. Robeson's presence sparked some protest.

Charles Dyer, a former Charleston resident who now lives in Maryland, recalled that era. Dyer's father, the Rev. Jacob A. Dyer, pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, provided Robeson sanctuary. The younger Dyer will be here for the play and unveiling of the historic marker.

"I am elated to be coming to Charleston," he said. "I am thankful that this performance and ceremony is taking place because it justifies my father's actions. He welcomed Robeson into our home at a time when that was very risky."

The present owner of the home on Bull Street, Phil Noble, had a lot to do with bringing Solomon to town. Noble, who is originally from Anniston, Ala., had seen Solomon perform there and came up with the project, he said.

"Charleston has had a long and difficult racial history," Noble said. "Any time we deal with it honestly, we are reminded of that time and recognize it, which is an important part of evolving as a society."

Solomon's show honors this history.

"This is my first visit to the city and I am impressed by the support of the arts here," said Solomon. "Through the arts, we carry a part of history with us, like this show does. And it is very important to remember our roots. I grew up in a country where we were discriminated against and were forbidden opportunity. Through my art, I hope to help make a change."

Arshie Chevalwala is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.