Harry Belafonte had his career breakthrough with the album Calypso, which was the first million-selling LP by a single artist. The best-known song on that album was “Day-O, The Banana Boat Song.” My favorite Belafonte song, however, was “There’s a Hole in The Bucket” that he sang with Odetta. The irony and humor always makes me laugh.
Belafonte was American born of Scottish, Jamaican, and Dutch-Jewish parentage. His heritage and background contributed to his ease of performing in many genres and films. He is one of a few entertainers to have received an “EGOT.”
Often overlooked is his active participation in the Civil Rights movement. Mentored by Paul Robeson, he was a confidante of Martin Luther King, Jr. There are several pictures of him at the Civil Rights March in 1963.
My favorite photo shows him with my two crush-worthy actors of the time, Sidney Poitier and Charleston Heston.
Also known for his acting, Belafonte’s Buck and The Preacher is noteworthy. It was Sidney Poitier’s directional debut with Belafonte Enterprises as producer. Belafonte portrayed a respected Civil Rights leader in his last screen appearance in Spike Lee’s 2018 Oscar-winning BlacKkKlansman.
My most delightful memory of him was when he was the butt of a joke. Performing at the former Golf Mill theater-in-the-round, he saw people leave the theater for a “break.” He stopped his set, called them out, and resumed his song. A bit later, when his back was turned, Jacqueline (Jessie Jackson’s wife) quickly jumped up and scooted out. Piqued by the audience’s laughter, Belafonte stopped again, turned around, caught on quickly, and announced Mrs. Jackson’s temporary departure. It was a special moment in a stunning performance.
Born on March 1, 1927, Harry Belafonte died on April 25, 2023. During his 96 years, Belafonte was a stellar contributor to our nation and the arts. I will miss him.