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The Life Force of Harry Belafonte


The Life Force of Harry Belafonte

Tony Norman

His life with all of its twists and turns — poverty, sudden fame, McCarthyism, civil rights activism, a dire prediction about fascism in America — was laid bare on the stage.

Harry Belafonte


I often think of my attendance at his gig in Birdland in the 1950s. I hope you don’t have to be 85 like me to appreciate this article.


This is the first time I heard that Harry Belafonte has spoken in Pittsburgh, on 20 October. Aside from Tony Norman’s opinion column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - nothing. The event calendar and e-mails of my local “Peace and Justice Center” - nothing. I would have tried to attend had I known. Apparently in racist Pittsburgh I needed to have been a member of Pittsburgh’s isolated black community to have known he was coming.


Nothing on McNair comments about “we can’t let the inmates run the prison”—this is how the elite view the world----workers—even highly paid football players are slaves----just do your job and shut up. As I checked this out its amazing how many people make excuses for these comments. This guy just spoke how the elite view the world.


Thank you so much for this article. I’m 75 and hero worshipped Harry Belafonte since he came out with the Banana Boat song. How we white girls loved him and how beautiful he was! With the passing years, he has simply become more beautiful. A wonderful example of a compassionate, dignified and thoughtful human being of whom we can all be proud. And let’s not forget that both he and Sidney Poitier began their lives on islands in the Caribbean. Something worth reflection. I remember the start of Poitier’s autobiography. “Everything I ever needed to know, I learned on Cat Island.”


Harry Belafonte is indeed a human treasure. I saw him live back in the mid-60s, was entranced and became a lifelong fan. Most recently, I saw him speak at the Kennedy Center Honors, when Carlos Santana was the honoree. He brought the house down with laughter when he looked up at Santana and said something to this effect: “We’ve gotta do something about all these immigrants coming here and taking our jobs. I think he’s taken jobs away from me.”


One indelible memory from my prepubescent years was of hearing “Man Smart (Woman Smarter)” playing on a scratchy portable record player, while my great-aunt Carita danced along, sipping her brandy Alexander and repeating, “He’s a wicked, wicked man.”

I didn’t think she felt offended in the least.


The charisma of Harry Belafonte is so dignified and understated that it is like magic. I’ve always found myself awash with patience and capacity to listen and expect wisdom - even just in his televised presence. The music I associate with him also tends to have similar qualities - melodic, inclusive and about the human heart. I’d have loved to have met the elders who influenced his youth. They too must have been among the unrecognized living national human treasures.


I remember going to a concert of his in Pittsburgh in the late '50s. It was at the Syria Mosque, a beautiful building that is now torn down. It was a very hot day in August and the Syria Mosque was not very good with temperature control. But when he entered the stage and began singing, there was no longer any thought about the heat. We were in a different place. Here I am all these years later and an old lady, I still remember it like it was yesterday.


I met Belafonte briefly at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. (Not rich, live nearby) The documentary Sing Your Song premiered there, about Belafonte’s life as a black entertainer and social justice advocate. I’ll always remember the film and the Q & A following it, but my momentary meeting and the few words we exchanged will remain among the highpoints in my life experience. RESPECT.


Thank you Mr. Norman, for sharing this experience with us. Harry Belafonte was one of a kind. His very presence in this world made it better. We may never see his like again, but we can aspire to the heights of his humanity, knowing that if we make it just half way, we will have accomplished something good.


My apologies. The last sentence in Tony Normans article on October 30, 2017, Views was misinterpreted by be. Very embarrassed!