“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
The universal struggle to build trusting relationships is best reflected in music.
Here are 10 of the most memorable songs about trust (or a lack thereof).
1. "Trust in Me" by Etta James
Etta James' 1937 classic "Trust in Me" is about more than just having faith in your partner, it's a plea for trust. James captures the strife of a relationship in which one partner seems to be more invested and trustful.
2. "The Times They Are A Changin'" by Bob Dylan
Between the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, the '60s were clearly a time of social unrest and mistrust. Bob Dylan's song is a call for change and an affirmation that change is possible.
3. "A Matter of Trust" by Billy Joel
Once you get past the butterflies, there's the challenge of keeping the relationship alive. Billy Joel sings about what it takes to make a relationship last: Trust in each other.
4. "That’s What Friends Are For" by Dionne Warwick
"That's What Friends Are For" was out three years before Dionne Warwick recorded this version featuring Gladys Knight, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder. Their version became a hit: a worthy success for four friends singing about dependable companionship.
5. "Let Me Leave" by Marc Broussard
Sometimes trusting someone is a bad idea, especially when they haven't given you a good reason. If you're fortunate enough to get a heads up like Marc Broussard's "Let Me Leave," then you'd better take it.
6. "Lean On" by Major Lazer & DJ Snake Ft. MO
Named the 2015 song of the year, with more than 540 million streaming listens, "Lean On" is a mashup of EDM and indie vocals from music collective Major Lazer, DJ Snake and Swedish singer MO. Arguably the song of the summer, "Lean On" makes the point that all we need is someone to lean on.
7. "Fortress" by Coleman Hell
Toronto-based artist Coleman Hell recently split from his duo for a solo music career. "Fortress" features the same folktronica and EDM elements as the rest of his EP. With its catchy, upbeat sound, it's easy to forget the song is about how hard it is to get someone to trust you enough to let you in.
8. "Take Care" by Drake ft. Rihanna
Whenever trust is broken, there's always someone else to pick up the pieces. Drake's 2012 hit "Take Care" explores the aftermath of trying to take care of someone whose heart has been broken. The song approaches trust from all angles: giving it, gaining it and losing it.
9. "Trust Nobody" by D4
Backstabbing, faking, lying—there's a point where the only person you can trust is yourself. D4, the New Zealand rock band from the late '90s, figures that getting what you need might be a one-man effort.
10. "Trust" by Justin Bieber
Talk about a redemption tour. Justin Bieber's entire album Purpose is centered around the pop star's journey to redemption and regaining the trust he lost. "Trust" is about a couple renewing lost trust, but it really could be about any relationship.