Harry Belafonte has sat down for an interview with Hermene Hartman to discuss his legendary career as a singer, actor, and social activist. Here are some excerpts.
Q: What stirred your social activism?
One of the most important influencers in my life has been Paul Roberson. He was my mentor. He told me something once that I tried to implement in my life. My popularity was on the rise and I wanted him to see my show. He was in the audience when I appeared at the Village Vanguard in New York. After the show he said, “Get them to sing your song and they will want to know who you are.” He talked to me about the power of popularity and message. He said I could give people a reason to listen.
Q: How have you survived the world of entertainment?
I have survived this world of show business by selecting from a menu of eclectic roles. I did not depend on my work solely as an actor. I could always sing and tour. So, in my movie roles, I was free enough to approach the culturally unspeakable. I feel rewarded, because I could dig deep into playing a character.
Q: What are you working on these days?
I perform mostly in Europe. I don’t sing anymore. I have been working on a documentary for the past two years. It is about those who have had voices. When my friend, Marlon Brando, passed it stimulated the documentary. I thought the world didn’t know the Brando I knew. He was my friend and I want to show him to people, as I knew him.
Q: This is a question for the activist, in you? Where are we today?
We are in a struggle in America on a perpetual path for the hunt for truth. The Black community has never spoken to its blackness, that is, its pain and denial. We have missed several opportunities to come to grips with blackness. Whites deal with a collective guilt, that is, the negatviity, the arrogant culture. There is a collapse of culture because we are living out lies. Truth is challenging.
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Q: What music would we hear on your Ipod?
The music of Africa. My favorite male singer is from Senegal, his name is Baaba Maal. And Aretha Franklin in my favorite female vocalist.