Persons [ ] You can cage the singer but not the song | Harry Belafonte, 1927-2023

Harry Belafonte 1945

Harry Belafonte, 1945

“Art in its highest form is art that serves and instructs society and human development.”

“You can cage the singer but not the song.”

“When I was 20 and 30, my visions for what the world would be, all things were possible.”

“I grew up in the Great Depression, and the jazz artists and Dixieland musicians were at the core of our communications and enjoyment. They were not passing fancies. They are something that is, and will be, listened to again and again. I have a space of reverence for some of those old jazz stars such as Sydney Bechet and Louis Armstrong.”

“I knew Charlie Parker, and he gave us such a gift with his music. He put so much into so little space, and it was tragic that he died so young.”

“I’m called a folk singer, and I’m not too sure about that. I went about my life approaching music not from the point of view of a singer, but from the point of view of an actor. That’s how I first started to sing.”

Harry Belafonte King of Calypso b

Harry Belafonte, 1954

“One of the true pleasures of my life has been the work of John Steinbeck. He was one of the people who turned my life around. I had no direct relationship with him, unfortunately.”

“John Steinbeck is one of the most under-discussed and under-written-about of all American writers. He is way up there and should stand on a par, or even above, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner.”

“I’m always suspicious of celebrities that write about their lives.”

“My activism always existed. My art gave me the platform to do something about the activism.”

“I am a man who perceives life in a certain way, a man who rejects things that defecate on humankind, who rejects anything that will not give people room for dissent.”

Ed Sullivan with Harry Belafonte in 1955

Ed Sullivan with Harry Belafonte in 1955

“Without the rebellious heart, without people who understand that there’s no sacrifice we can make that is too great to retrieve that which we’ve lost, we will forever be distracted with possessions and trinkets and title.”

” I’m not quite sure precisely when social and political activism became a visible brand of my DNA, but it seems to me that I was born into it. It is hard to be born into the experience in the world of poverty and not develop some instinct for survival and resistance to those things that oppress you.”

“All too often, I’m sorry to say, I relegated my family to the cracks and margins.”

“Poverty was my mother’s midwife. She had her children in poverty. But she also found a road to bring us a sense of purpose, and she taught us how to be valiant in the face of oppression.”

Harry Belafonte 1
Harry Belafonte

“Although slavery may have been abolished, the crippling poison of racism still persists, and the struggle still continues.”

“Peace is necessary. For justice, it is necessary. For hope, it is necessary, for our future.”

“Fascism is fascism. Terrorism is terrorism. Oppression is oppression.”

“Poverty is terror. Having your Social Security threatened is terror. Having your livelihood as an elderly person slowly disappearing with no replenishment is terror.”

“You can be arrested and not charged. You can be arrested and have no right to counsel.”

” I don’t think soldiers should be anywhere in the world. I mean, that is a moral and a basic philosophy. I think that the only way to end wars is to have no military and to find other ways in which – I think we should suspend all nuclear weapons.”

Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte New York for a party in honor of Lorraine Hansberrys Broadway play A Raisin in the Sun photo by Gordon Parks 1959

Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, New York for a party in honor of Lorraine Hansberry’s Broadway play A Raisin in the Sun, photo by Gordon Parks, 1959

“Movements don’t die, because struggle doesn’t die.”

“What makes a movement work are thousands of parts that come together and express itself in favor of a given destination or objective. You have to find men and women who are willing to play the role that each of these things demand.”

“The pursuit of justice is all I have ever known.”

“Bring it on. Dissent is central to any democracy.”

Robert Wise, Odds Against Tomorrow, 1959

” I think New York City most represents what it is that America in general aspires to. It’s big; it’s dense. I’ve known this city from all of its social arcs. The best that’s in America is yet to come. The worst that’s in America is yet to come.”

“If you want to look at the Monroe Doctrine and what happened when we wrote that, we stated what the business would be for America’s power, especially in this hemisphere. We have always been the colonizer of this hemisphere, wherever we’ve been.”

“Our foreign policy has made a wreck of this planet. I’m always in Africa… And when I go to these places I see American policy written on the walls of oppression everywhere.”

“America has never been moved to perfect our desire for greater democracy without radical thinking and radical voices being at the helm of any such quest.”

“The USA has more people in prison that any other country, including countries with much larger populations. 13% of the population is black but 80% of the people in prison are black, mostly for soft crimes.”

Harry Belafonte King of Calypso

Now let me say this about the songs of the Caribbean – almost all black music is deeply rooted in metaphor. The only way that we could speak to the pain and anguish of our experiences was often through how we codified our stories in the songs that we sang.
And when I sing the ‘Banana Boat Song,’ the song is a work song. It’s about men who sweat all day long, and they are underpaid, and they’re begging the tallyman to come and give them an honest count – counting the bananas that I’ve picked, so I can be paid. And sometimes, when they couldn’t get money, they’ll give them a drink of rum. There’s a lyric in the song that says, ‘Work all night on a drink of rum.’
People sing and delight and dance and love it, but they don’t really understand unless they study the song that they’re singing a work song, a song of rebellion.

Harry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte Coretta Scott King and Duke Ellington 1956

Harry Belafonte, Coretta Scott King, and Duke Ellington, 1956

“I don’t think that we are a species or a people that can exist without making mistakes somewhere along the line.”

“If you believe in justice, if you believe in democracy, if you believe in people’s rights, if you believe in the harmony of all humankind – then you have no choice but to back Fidel Castro as long as it takes!”

“I’ve always been supportive of the right of Israel as a state, and I’ve always fought against anti-Semitism, even in my own community.”

“When you grow up, son, never ever go to bed at night knowing that there was something you could have done during the day to strike a blow against injustice and you didn’t do it.”

“If I’ve impacted on one heart, one mind, one soul, and brought to that individual a greater truth than that individual came into a relationship with me having, then I would say that I have been successful.”

Harry Belafonte, 1927-2023

Dorothy Dandridge with Harry Belafonte in Island in the Sun 1957

Dorothy Dandridge with Harry Belafonte in Island in the Sun, 1957

Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte on the set of Bright Road 1953

Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte on the set of Bright Road, 1953

Marlon Brando visits Dorothy Dandridge Harry Belafonte on the set of Bright Road 1953

Marlon Brando visits Dorothy Dandridge & Harry Belafonte on the set of Bright Road, 1953

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