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THE late Labour leftwinger Tony Benn once helped to start a singalong in a parliamentary tearoom with US communist singer Paul Robeson, Jeremy Corbyn has revealed.
The former party leader Mr Corbyn was speaking at a Labour Grassroots online event, newly renamed Castaway, on Wednesday night, during which he listed his favourite music and books to an audience of about 470 people.
One of his musical choices was a soulful rendition of Ol’ Man River by Robeson, a bass-baritone singer, actor, political activist and former lawyer who was blacklisted in the United States during the McCarthy era of anti-communist persecution.
Benn had told Mr Corbyn that he invited Robeson — who died in 1976 — to Parliament, and that few MPs knew much about him, but “they heard he was a communist therefore they didn’t like him.”
The singer, after being taken to the Pugin Room for tea and scones, was asked by Benn whether he “wouldn’t mind singing.” One of them – Mr Corbyn didn’t say who – started Ol’ Man River, quietly at first and then louder, until Robeson stood up and led a rendition of the classic tune by everyone present.
He recalled that “the whole room filled and all the staff joined in,” adding that “the same experience happened when [Robeson] sang for the Scottish miners and the south Wales miners.”
Other pieces of music chosen by Mr Corbyn include Gustav Mahler’s Symphony 10, performed by Daniel Barenboim and West East Divan orchestra; No Easy Way Out by Jamie Bramwell; Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley and the Wailers, You Are Not Alone by Emeli Sande and Roisin Dubh by folk singer Maeve Mackinnon.
His book choices were Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, Braiding Sweetgrass by botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer and A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.
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