Harry Belafonte is 85

Harry Belafonte was an artist who used his celebrity for good.

Harry Belafonte, who turns 85 today, is a hero to me. Based on his record collection, my late father was likewise taken; moreover, I think Belafonte was a model for my father’s life.

If you’re not familiar with him, here’s an apt description from the Charlie Rose website:
Harold Belafonte, Jr. is an African-American musician, actor and radical social activist of Jamaican ancestry. One of the most successful Jamaican musicians in history, he was dubbed the “King of Calypso” for popularizing the Caribbean musical style in the 1950s. Belafonte is perhaps best known for singing the “Banana Boat Song”, with its signature lyric “Day-O”. Throughout his career, he has been an advocate for civil rights and humanitarian causes. In recent years he has been a vocal critic of the policies of the Bush Administration.

My father used to sing in the Binghamton, NY area when I was growing up. He was a “singer of folk songs,” which he found to be an important distinction from being a “folk singer,” a term he found too confining. And like Belafonte, he sang in a variety of styles.

My father’s musical repertoire, I understood far later, came from a variety of sources: Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Odetta, Leadbelly, Jimmie Rogers and very definitely, Belafonte. In fact, here’s one song called There’s A Hole in My Bucket by Belafonte and Odetta, which my father used to sing, until my sister Leslie and I joined his act and stole it from him.

Harry Belafonte was an artist who used his celebrity for good. He was not one to shut up and sing, or act, as though he had forfeited his rights as a citizen, something we in my household admired greatly. He was quite active, for instance, working with Martin Luther King, Jr. Read The amazing American journey of Harry Belafonte -Day-O! How the singer-activist blended Caribbean shtick and fierce political passion. Also, watch this segment of CBS News Sunday Morning.

And if sleeps through an occasional interview, he’s entitled!
Davy Jones of the Monkees died this week. I was not a big Monkees fan, but I distinctly remember wanting a Monkees Greatest Hits album and getting it one Christmas. Mark Evanier tells a lovely story about Davy Jones from just a few weeks ago; seemed like a great guy. Here’s the Monkees doing It’s Nice To Be With You.


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