Harry Belafonte on His Artistic Values and His Activism

Harry Belafonte, the singer, actor and activist whose widespread success in the 1950s paved the way for other black artists, died Tuesday at the age of 96.

A Harlem kid, Belafonte used his platform at the height of the entertainment world to explore his music, how black lives were portrayed on screen, and the civil rights movement that mattered most to him. spoke frequently about Here are some of the insights Mr. Belafonte provided to The New York Times during his decades in the public spotlight.

Belafonte’s string of hits, including “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell,” fostered Americans’ obsession with Caribbean music, and his record company dubbed him the “King of Calypso.” ” was advertised.

However, Belafonte never accepted such a monarchical title, rejecting “purism” as “a cover-up for mediocrity” and explaining that he sees his work as a mashup of musical styles.

he told the New York Times Magazine In 1959 he said that folk music “had hidden within it a great dramatic sense and a powerful lyrical sense”. He also emphatically admitted, “I don’t have a big voice.”

In 1993, he told The Times that he used his songs to “explain the human condition and give people insight into what is happening globally from what I’ve been through.” rice field.

For example, he said “Day-O” is a way of life.

“This is a song about my father, mother, uncle, the men and women who work in the banana fields and sugar cane fields of Jamaica. It’s a classic work song.”

Mr. Belafonte’s success in music helped him become a Hollywood guru. In the 1950s and his 1960s, Mr. Belafonte and his friend Sidney Poitier played more substantial and nuanced roles than previous black actors.

Despite this, Mr. Belafonte was largely dissatisfied.

Contributed to The Times in 1968he complained that television “rarely reflects the true beauty, soul and integrity of the black community.”

“The media is dominated by white supremacist notions and racist attitudes,” he wrote. “Television eliminates the reality of black life with all its grievances, passions and aspirations, because portraying that life indicts (or perhaps enrich?), and neither the network nor the sponsors want that.”

Belafonte emphasized that her 10-year-old son has barely seen a black hero on TV.

“The nobility of his heritage and the values ​​that complement his positive growth and masculinity deny him,” he wrote. “Instead, there’s everything that knocks him down and makes him feel inferior. He sees blacks as just riots and social problems, never as human beings as a whole.”

Nearly 25 years later, Belafonte cautiously suggested in an interview with The Times that little has changed.

“Even today, the pictures that have always been successful on the big screen are those that show blacks the way white America buys them,” he said in 1993. not commercially viable. ”

Even when he was at the height of his entertainment career, Mr. Belafonte actively focused on activism and civil rights.

“It goes back to 1959,” Belafonte told The Times in 1981. I had personal commitments and I had personal breakthroughs. Produced the first black TV special. I was the first black person to perform at the Waldorf Astoria. ”

But Belafonte lamented that the movement was over by the mid-1970s.

“At the end of the 70s, when the doors of Hollywood closed to minorities and blacks, many black artists enjoyed exploitation for a decade. rice field.”

Belafonte remained outspoken about politics in his later years. In 2002, he accused Secretary of State Colin L. Powell of abandoning his principle of “come to the house of the master.”he Called President George W. Bush a ‘terrorist’ 2006, and lamented in 2012 Modern celebrities have “turned their backs on social responsibility.”

“There is no evidence that artists have the same passion and the same commitment as artists of my time,” he told The Times in 2016. black society. ”

Again in 2016 and 2020, he visited The Times opinion page, urging voters to reject Donald J. Trump.

“Voting is probably the most important weapon in our arsenal,” Belafonte told The Times in a 2016 article. “What is needed now is the same as what was needed before,” he added. “As struggle never dies, so does movement.”

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