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Robeson’s appearances at the NMU conventions were described as receiving “a tremendous ovation,” “tumultuous applause” and “extended applause.” He sang songs the seamen knew, and addressed them warmly.

Robeson addressing the 1943 NMU convention in New York City:

Brothers—I was booked for out of town this week, but said that I’d have to stay in this part of the world until I could attend this convention. That was no matter how busy I might be. I’ll take a late train tonight to be in Michigan for my next concert.

I have stayed because, as I have said many times before, whenever I meet an NMU fellow (and I see them wherever I go), I see immediately a friend, a Brother. I have come here because the Union is a sort of home to me. Not only that. Some of my closest friends are in your Union: Joe, Ferdy, Leo, Harry—that old codger there. They are very, very dear friends of mine.

Robeson at microphone during 1952 concert at the Peace Arch in Vancouver, Canada.

Robeson at microphone during 1952 concert at the Peace Arch in Vancouver, Canada. ~ Image from record jacket cover for “I Came to Sing,” album recorded at Peace Arch concert.

Oh No John

« Flash required »

(Cecil Sharpe)

On yonder hill there stands a creature,
Who she is I do not know
I will court her for her beauty,
She must answer yes or no
Oh no John, No John, No John, No!

My father was a Spanish Captain,
Went to sea a month ago
First he kissed me, then he left me,
Bid me always answer no
Oh no John, No John, No John, No!

Madam in your face is beauty,
On your lips red roses grow
Will you take me for your lover,
Madam answer yes or no
Oh no John, No John, No John, No!

Madam I will give you jewels,
I will make you rich and free
I will give you silken dresses,
Madam will you marry me?
Oh no John, No John, No John, No!

Madam since you are so cruel,
And that you do scorn me so
If I may not be your lover,
Madam will you let me go?
Oh no John, No John, No John, No!

Then I will stay with you forever,
If you will not be unkind
Madam I have vowed to love you,
Would you have me change my mind?
Oh no John, No John, No John, No!

Oh hark, I hear the churchbells ringing,
Will you come and be my wife?
Or dear madam, have you settled,
To live single all your life?
Oh no John, No John, No John, No!


Recording from “The Odyssey of Paul Robeson,” with Lawrence Brown on piano, arrangement by Cecil Sharp.
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