The Black Pride flag that flies in my soul is still at half-staff in memoriam to the late Harry Belafonte, who died last month.
As I’ve often said on this page, I didn’t have to go looking for people to put on pedestals when I was a child. I was lucky enough to be born into a family and community that was chock-full of them. But when I did look, I gravitated towards people like Belafonte.
I can’t remember where I saw him for the first time, but I do remember that the room was full of female members of my family who all immediately went into full swoon mode as soon as he appeared on the screen.
Then he opened his mouth and begin to sing, and even the men seemed to be under his spell. I was more than impressed by his impact on my family and became a lifelong fan.
If you are of a certain age, like I am, regardless of what type of music you primarily listen to, there are a handful of songs that cross every boundary and Belafonte sang one of them, “Day-O” (the banana boat song).
You can walk into the toughest biker bar or the most OG juke joint and start singing the words “Day-o, day-o, daylight comes and I wanna go home,” and within seconds, you’ll have a mass choir behind and beside you doing the chorus.
When the Christmas spirit hits me every year, the first holiday album I place on my stereo is his “I Wish You A Merry Christmas”
I also liked him because if he was a guest on the “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, he was one of the people I was allowed to stay up way past my bedtime to watch, sing and talk to Johnny.
Although I don’t remember it, I’m sure that I got to stay up and watch some of the “Tonight Shows” when he hosted in place of Johnny in the late 1960s.
As got older, I learned that he was more than a singer, actor and performer; he was a human and civil rights activist. That made me an even bigger fan of his.
Not only did he march with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the late 1950s and ’60s, but also he bankrolled the movement and was one of King’s closest friends. Time after time ,he was the man who bailed King and other activists out of jail when they were arrested while fighting for equality.
He also put up the money that helped start SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) that was an arm of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Committee.
He paid for King’s funeral and maintained an insurance policy on King’s life that helped Coretta and the King children survive in the years following his assassination, often using his own money towards that purpose.
The other thing I admired about Belafonte was how he refused to allow Hollywood to disrespect him as an artist. He routinely turned down roles he felt demeaned him as a black man. Some of the roles he turned down were eventually offered to and taken by his friend, Sidney Poitier.
At the height of his popularity in the late ’50s, he turned his back on Hollywood after his singing voice was dubbed by a white performer because the studio deemed his voice as too sensual for white women to hear.
After leaving the movies, Belafonte found a home on television, appearing on and hosting many variety shows and specials. In 1960 he won the first Emmy by a black performer for his special “Tonight with Belafonte.”
He was slated to do five more specials, but the deal fell apart when Revlon, the sponsor, asked him not to do segments with black and whites performing together. Eight years later, he caused a stir on a show with British singer Petula Clark, when she touched his arm while they were singing a duet.
He returned to the big screen as an actor and producer in 1970 with the film, “The Angel Levine,” a movie with a socio-political slant to it.
And he put his social activism to work by hiring 15 blacks and Hispanics to be part of the crew and learn to make movies. Two years later, one of those guys wrote the screenplay for one of my favorite western movies, “Buck and the Preacher,” that starred Belafonte and Poitier in the title roles.
Poitier also directed the movie that came out in the middle of the blaxploitation movie era and was far from being a part of it. He also appeared in the Poitier-Bill Cosby flick, “Uptown Saturday Night,” then disappeared from the movies for almost 20 years.
While he appeared in several documentaries about black Hollywood and the struggle for civil rights in the years that followed, his last big-screen appearance was in the 2018 Spike Lee film, “BlacKkKlansman.”
His later years were defined by his political activism and charitable work.
In the 1980s, he was one of the leaders of the boycott of South Africa and help organize the Live Aid concert and the We Are the World recording. In 1987, he replaced Danny Kaye as the UNICEF goodwill ambassador and even considered running for U.S. Senate from New York.
In the 2000s, he could always be counted upon for a comment or several about Republicans like George W. Bush, whom he called the greatest terrorist in the world, and went as far to say that Colin Powell had abandoned his principles in order to come “into the house of the master.”
Thank goodness he lasted through the Trump era and the right-wing white nationalists that abound today.
On the eve of the 2016 election, in an opinion piece in the New York Times, he asked and answered the question: What did we (black people) have to lose if Donald Trump wins? He wrote, “Mr. Trump asks us what we have to lose, and we must answer, ‘Only the dream, only everything.’”
Before the 2020 election, he returned to the newspaper and wrote this, “We have learned exactly how much we had to lose, a lesson that has been inflicted upon black people again and again in our history, and we will not be bought off by the empty promises of the flim-flam man.”
In one of the last documentaries in which I saw him be a part, Belafonte walks out onto an empty movie set and raises a black power fist as the screen fades to black.
Day-0, and rest in power, Mr. B.
Hi, Momma Lois.
TONY KENDALL of Hazel is a writer, teacher, actor, playwright and sports fanatic. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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You work an 'angle' on everything and manage to write about good white folk as though they are the devil. Shame on you!
Harry Belafonte had talent and that X factor that common street hustlers and over produced wannabe gangstas sell their souls for and have nothing to show for it.
Bling and a nasty, foul mouth has little to recommend it. High American culture is degraded by low living feral punks, thugs and felons feeding on socialist/Democrat lies about the good life on the Democrat plantation.
Maybe, just maybe I will save those that you want to infect with your 'chip-on-your-shoulder' attitude by my comments. I can only hope so, for you do so much racial damage to those innocent people reading your column week after week in the PI that even a Godless wreck like you ought to relent and repent from the evil you do.
Interesting that because of all your talk about 'white nationalists' I took a look for myself and discovered that white nationalists are great people who love America. They feed their families and get to work on time. Ask nothing from you and would give you the shirt off their backs (their red necks be d$#d) if you were in need. They pay the taxes which you Leftist swill sellers waste on socialist policies which always benefit the government bureaucrats like you first with a paycheck and pension while the poor get poorer.
Brother, you are a full blown fraud, go ahead and admitt it. Democrat/socialist lies have impoverished every stupid people who swallow it's something-for-nothing lies.
I didn't think you could get any lower but you use a tribute to a great American artist as a springboard to another disqusting delusional rant. You do understand that most PI readers wrote you off a long time ago? I can see why.
Well now I've seen it all. Someone defending White Nationalism which is code for White Supremacy At least this newspaper supports the first amendment..
I was listening to NPR corrupting out of Murray State University in Kentucky for several impossibly long minutes earlier this morning just before 6:30 am but was 'just' able to out think their America hating Leftist propaganda. It wasn't easy as I know most of America's dumbed down population accept NPR's psycho trophic mind control and I like to fit in with the cool crowd. My struggles are epic.
To recap NPR they managed to feed their dopes some words about the debt ceiling debate in Congress, racism and racists, eating disorders and the COVID lockdowns, the Holocaust and George Floyd. So with their audience all 'pilled-up' they can safely worm their way to work and pay more taxes like the government wants them to.
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