Harry Belafonte feature in USA Today. We host him Nov 28 at Live Talks Los Angeles
But when this octogenarian sits down to discuss his new projects — a memoir titled My Song (Knopf, $30.50), out Tuesday, and the related documentary Sing Your Song, premiering on HBO Oct. 17 at 10 p.m. ET/PT — he acquires an unmistakable vigor. His diction crisp, his language articulate and urgent — and playful, on occasion — Belafonte explains why he was compelled to capture his multifaceted, still-unfinished journey for posterity.
“For a long time, people had told me that I should write a book,” he says. “But celebrity books are usually buried in self-serving narcissism. So I resisted the idea.”
Then in 2004, Marlon Brando, Belafonte’s pal and fellow social crusader, died. “And he took with him stories of all the remarkable things he had done. That upset me. So I decided to take a camera and see how many others were left from my generation.” That paved the way forSing Your Song, which includes archival footage and additional interviews. (A companion CD, with the same title, was released Tuesday.)
“After I’d done all that research,” Belafonte says, “the book,” written with author and Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Shnayerson, “just fell into place.”
Just a few of Harry Belafonte’s recordings and movie credits:
Calypso (1956). Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) helped make Belafonte Elvis Presley’s biggest rival on the charts.
Belafonte at Carnegie Hall (1959). The live album reveals his easy grace as a performer and his affinity for folk songs from various cultures.
An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba (1965). Belafonte and the fluid-voiced South African singer/activist earned a Grammy Award for their collaboration.
We Are the World (1985). The mother of all American charity singles is Belafonte’s brainchild. He also sang in the chorus, behind a few guys named Michael, Bruce and Stevie.
Carmen Jones (1954). Belafonte didn’t sing in his second pairing with Dorothy Dandridge — operatic vocals were dubbed in — but he smoldered.
Island in the Sun (1957). Romantic tension between characters played by Belafonte and white actress Joan Fontaine made this film controversial in the South.
Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). Belafonte broke ground again as the leading man in a film noir produced by his own company, HarBel.
Kansas City (1996). Belafonte won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for supporting actor for playing a ’30s gangster in this Robert Altman film.