Harry Belafonte on His Artistic Values and His Activism

Published: April 25, 2023

Harry Belafonte, the singer, actor and activist whose wide-ranging success blazed a path for different Black artists within the Nineteen Fifties, died on Tuesday at age 96.

A baby of Harlem, Mr. Belafonte used his platform on the top of the leisure world to talk out continuously on his music, how Black life was depicted onscreen and, most essential to him, the civil rights motion. Here are a number of the insights Mr. Belafonte offered to The New York Times throughout his many many years within the public highlight, as they appeared on the time:

Mr. Belafonte’s string of hits, together with “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell,” helped create an American obsession with Caribbean music that led his document firm to advertise him because the “King of Calypso.”

But Mr. Belafonte by no means embraced that type of monarchical title, rejecting “purism” as a “cover-up for mediocrity” and explaining that he noticed his work as a mash-up of musical kinds.

He informed The New York Times Magazine in 1959 that folks music had “hidden within it a great dramatic sense, and a powerful lyrical sense.” He additionally plainly conceded: “I don’t have a great voice.”

In 1993, he informed The Times that he used his songs “to describe the human condition and to give people some insights into what may be going on globally, from what I’ve experienced.”

He mentioned that “Day-O,” as an illustration, was a lifestyle.

“It’s a song about my father, my mother, my uncles, the men and women who toil in the banana fields, the cane fields of Jamaica,” he mentioned. “It’s a classic work song.”

Mr. Belafonte’s success in music helped him grow to be a Hollywood main man. In the Nineteen Fifties and Nineteen Sixties, Mr. Belafonte and his pal Sidney Poitier landed extra substantive and nuanced roles than Black actors had beforehand acquired.

Nonetheless, Mr. Belafonte was left largely unhappy.

Writing for The Times in 1968, he complained that “the real beauty, the soul, the integrity of the black community is rarely reflected” on tv.

“The medium is dominated by white-supremacy concepts and racist attitudes,” he wrote. “TV excludes the reality of Negro life, with all its grievances, passions and aspirations, because to depict that life would be to indict (or perhaps enrich?) much of what is now white America and its institutions. And neither networks nor sponsors want that.”

Mr. Belafonte emphasised that his 10-year-old son noticed few Black heroes on tv.

“The nobility in his heritage and the values that could complement his positive growth and sense of manhood are denied him,” he wrote. “Instead, there is everything to tear him down and give him an inferiority complex. He will see the Negro only as a rioter and a social problem, never as a whole human being.”

Roughly 25 years later, Mr. Belafonte was circumspect, suggesting in an interview with The Times that little had modified.

“Even today, on the big screen, the pictures that are always successful are pictures where blacks appear in the way white America buys it,” he mentioned in 1993. “And we’re told that what we really want to express is not profitable and is not commercially viable.”

Even as Mr. Belafonte was within the prime of his leisure profession, he was intently centered on activism and civil rights.

“Back in 1959,” Mr. Belafonte informed The Times in 1981, “I fully believed in the civil-rights movement. I had a personal commitment to it, and I had my personal breakthroughs — I produced the first black TV special; I was the first black to perform at the Waldorf Astoria. I felt if we could just turn the nation around, things would fall into place.”

But Mr. Belafonte lamented that by the center of the Nineteen Seventies, the motion had ended.

“When the doors of Hollywood shut on minorities and blacks at the end of the 70’s,” he mentioned, “a lot of black artists had been enjoying the exploitation for 10 years. But one day they found the shop had closed down.”

Mr. Belafonte remained outspoken about politics in his later years. In 2002 he accused Secretary of State Colin L. Powell of abandoning his ideas to “come into the house of the master”; he known as President George W. Bush a “terrorist” in 2006, and lamented in 2012 that fashionable celebrities had “turned their back on social responsibility.”

“There’s no evidence that artists are of the same passion and of the same kind of commitment of the artists of my time,” he informed The Times in 2016. “The absence of black artists is felt very strongly because the most visible oppression is in the black community.”

In 2016 and once more in 2020, he visited the opinion pages of The Times to induce voters to reject Donald J. Trump.

“The vote is perhaps the single most important weapon in our arsenal,” Mr. Belafonte informed The Times within the 2016 article. “The same things needed now are the same things needed before,” he added. “Movements don’t die because struggle doesn’t die. ”

Source web site: www.nytimes.com