Last Monday HBO debuted the documentary on the life and work of legendary artist and activist Harry Belafonte, “Sing Your Song”. To call it must see TV is an understatement. “Sing Your Song” details how Harry Belafonte went from the first platinum selling musician, to international movie star heartthrob, to fearless advocate for oppressed people worldwide. A transition that cost him millions in canceled TV shows and movies, generated threats on his life, and caught the attention of the CIA and FBI.
If any person had the excuse of not getting involved cause they had ,”too much to lose” it was Harry Belafonte with his scores of young white adoring fans. He could have stayed away from controversy and continued to make movies and sell albums, but he chose to stand up for truth and justice, even if it cost him his career or his life. And in doing so Mr. Belafonte went from great entertainer to cultural icon, helping to shape the civil rights movement, spearhead the drive to feed millions of starving Africans with the song “We are the World”, and lead the fight to end apartheid and free Nelson Mandela.
One of the most powerful moments in the documentary for me was when Mr. Belafonte rode through small town Mississippi, at a time when it was commonplace for black people in the deep south to be lynched, tortured and killed, to bail out the Freedom Riders, who were imprisoned for standing up for equal rights. Mr. Belafonte, seeing the Freedom Riders were beat down from constantly being harassed and jailed, decided to take them to Africa to meet with the President of Guinea. The Freedom Riders were able to breath, and see how they were influencing an entire continent.
This touched me because Mr. Belafonte has personally paid for me to fly all over the United States and overseas, as a member of the Gathering for Justice, to participate in movement building and organizing that has literally changed my life. It’s one of the principle reason I make the type of music I do. It was indeed an honor to make a brief appearance in a documentary about a man who’s life was so influential. Thank you Mr. Belafonte, may your great example inspire a new generation of artists to speak truth to power, at a time when our people are in dire need.