Belafonte immersed himself in left-wing performance, studying both
drama and singing at the Dramatic Workshop, part of the New School for
Social Research. After classes, he hung out in NYC’s bebop scene, and
even had a few gigs singing jazz at the Royal Roost nightclub. He was
also drawn to the city’s folk music scene, especially the People’s Songs
organization, which sought to use folk songs as consciousness-raising
As Belafonte took on more gigs, his approach reflected his broadening
artistic and political perspectives. He moved away from jazz and pop
singing (not that he was getting rich from it), and fell in with the
burgeoning black progressive arts scene. Still needing to make a living
for his young family, he went in on a burger joint in Greenwich Village,
which didn’t last very long but served as a meeting point for radical
artists. By now, the early ‘50s, Cold War paranoia about Communist
infiltration among artists was in full effect. Belafonte’s growing
profile would eventually land him on that radar, although not to the
devastating impact Robeson and others suffered.
Things finally took off for Belafonte after his first film, Bright Road
(1953). That was part of a mini-wave of “message” films that attempted
to shed some light, however briefly or low-wattage, on black life.
Belafonte’s co-star was Dorothy Dandridge; both of them were featured as
nightclub stars rather than serious actors in the film’s publicity. He
would go on to co-star with Dandridge in the history-making Carmen Jones (1954), and play a central role in the sexually- and racially-charged Island in the Sun (1957). The experiences broadened his commercial appeal, but Hollywood’s racial reluctance chafed at his radical instincts.
Belafonte found greater freedom in his nightclub performances, in
which he sang all manner of people’s music: folk, spirituals, a little
jazz, and even some calypso. It took a while for his magnetism and
cultural awareness to be captured in the recording studio, but when that
happened, it broadened Belafonte’s mass appeal. In 1955, he began
collaborating with folklorist and songwriter Irving Burgie, who was deep
into study of Caribbean music at the time. Their first effort was a TV
special that fall spotlighting such music, featuring Belafonte’s first
performance of a Jamaican work song, “Day-O (Banana Boat Song)”. The
album they recorded the next year, Harry Belafonte: Calypso, became a million-seller, and “Day-O” his signature hit.
Smith sheds considerable light on Belafonte’s relatively unheralded
efforts as a movie producer in the late ‘50s. He was not able to break
many barriers, either artistically or commercially. The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1957) and Odds against Tomorrow
(1959), both featuring Belafonte in integrated casts, were probably
ahead of their time in anticipating how much racial equity white
movie-goers were willing to tolerate. But Belafonte was ahead of his
time as well, a forerunner to the L.A. Rebellion filmmakers of the ‘60s
and ‘70s, and Spike Lee and other indie black filmmakers since the ‘80s.
Belafonte was still a big enough star to merit prime-time TV specials, produced on his exacting terms. Tonight with Belafonte
(1959) included folksinger Odetta and dancer Arthur Mitchell, with
Belafonte setting a Langston Hughes poem to song. He followed that with New York 19,
a paean to both the city’s cultural diversity and the presence of black
music throughout American life. Future specials would showcase the
vitality of Harlem in the ‘20s (The Strollin’ 20s) and the depth and range of black comedy (A Time for Laughter). The former included Duke Ellington and Sammy Davis Jr., the latter Redd Foxx and a young Richard Pryor.
While creating, producing and performing in all these vehicles,
Belafonte insistently advocated for equity on the screen: both for the
opportunity for black performers to get work, and for that work to be in
projects and roles that would inform and inspire. He had yet another
chance to put his words into action in February 1968, when he
guest-hosted The Tonight Show for a week. Among the guests he
booked: Aretha Franklin and Petula Clark; the Smothers Brothers and
Nipsey Russell; Paul Newman and Poitier; Sen. Robert Kennedy and King.
What’s clear from Smith’s research is that, from the very beginning,
Belafonte never sought to keep his politics separate from his art
(that’s even clearer from reading his 2011 memoir My Story). For
him, art and activism had always been intertwined. If anything, the
balance shifted in favor of activism as the years moved on; his artistic
profile in the ‘70s and beyond lessened, but his political profile
continued to grow.
At 89 years young, he’s still at it. In October, Sankofa.org produced
its first music gala. “Many Rivers to Cross: A Festival of Music, Art
& Justice” brought together musicians as diverse as Carlos Santana,
Dave Matthews and Ty Dolla Sign, and activists including Angela Davis,
Shaka Senghor and Van Jones, for two days of social justice culture and
conversation in rural Georgia. Jesse Williams was there too, along with
fellow Sankofa advisory board member Danny Glover, John Legend and other
celebrities unafraid of using their talent and notoriety to fight the
For many years, that work was risky—just ask Robeson or any other
artist who’s ever been blacklisted. But this seems to be a different
moment, with artists of color gaining prominence for making work that
speaks boldly against injustice.
It’s a good bet to say this generation
knows Belafonte more as an activist than a star, or maybe as a star
because of his activism. But no matter what they know of his backstory,
he is their direct bridge to Robeson, and thus to long and proud
traditions both cultural and political. [Read More]
She felt utterly exhausted, drained of all energy she had once possessed when she heard a voice. She opened her eyes to see Ryoko holding her son, a small, tired smile on her face. “I guess he is worth all the pain,” she joked lightly feeling the soft cheek of her son’s face. “I never thought I’d ever become a mother. I never thought I’d be good enough to raise another human being.” She admitted.
okay so here’s what’s going the fuck on in puerto rico.
monica puig, puerto rican, 22, ranked #34 in the world, got to fucking olympic finals in single women’s tennis. meaning she indirectly beat serena mcfucking williams. tonight, she went against #2 worldwide, angelique kerber, playing for germany.
and our amazing athlete and person, monica puig, beat that and just won us our first gold medal.
now, compare puerto rico and germany as countries. germany is a world power. puerto rico is a little island in the caribbean no one gives a fuck about. germany is rich. puerto rico is drowning in a $70billion debt no one in the world will talk about (which frankly surprises and disgusts me).
and we just beat the best of the best in worldwide women’s tennis.
we heard our anthem blaring in the speakers of the rio olympics.
we saw our flag, that for some time in the 1950′s we were forbidden to even own, fly on top of the rest.
I’m tired of these commentators throwing little digs at Monica Puig & saying that she should’ve represented USA in the Olympics. Monica Puig was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Yes it’s a commonwealth territory, but she’ll be the first Puerto Rican woman in history to compete for an individual gold medal. The achievements of Puerto Ricans do not automatically belong to the United States just because of politics & government 😒😒😒
In Puerto Rico, hundreds of people shut down the island’s biggest Wal-Mart Monday in protest against the ongoing economic crisis on the island and the companies that protesters say are responsible. Protesters argue Wal-Mart damages the local economy while only providing precarious jobs for Puerto Ricans. Last month, a U.S. appeals court ruled against Puerto Rico in its efforts to raise Wal-Mart’s tax rate from 2 percent up to 6.5 percent. Monday’s protest, which shut down the Wal-Mart for the entire afternoon, was organized by the Socialist Workers Movement. This comes after a massive protest last week in Puerto Rico outside a conference hosted by the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce on the new PROMESA law, which was passed by the U.S. Congress in June, establishing a federally appointed control board with sweeping powers to run Puerto Rico’s economy. This is one of the protesters from Monday’s Wal-Mart action.
Melissa Vargas Echevarría: “My name is Melissa Vargas Echevarría. I am an active member and spokesperson of the Camp Against the Control Board. I’m also a member of the Workers Youth. We closed Wal-Mart’s operations for the day, and, in part, this is proof that when the people unite, we win. We need people to keep coming out to these protests, so that every multinational begins stepping backward, and we’re going to directly affect the ones who affect us directly. While the control board remains, we’re going to continue.”