“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.
Singer-songwriter and Grammy Award Winner Solange Knowles has built a blockbuster career in the R&B space by pushing boundaries and thinking outside of the box. And not only that, she’s Queen Bey’s younger sister.
She’s continuing on her path as a trailblazer by becoming the first Black woman to compose a score for the New York City Ballet.
The Cranes In The Sky singer took to social media to share the news:
\u201c\ud83d\udda4very excited to announce i\u2019ve composed an original score for the New York City Ballet \ud83d\udda4 choreography by Gianna Reisen , score performed by the City Ballet Orchestra + soloist from my ensemble \ud83d\udda4 \n\nShows : October 1, 8, 11, 16 \nMay 2, 11, 13, 17, 18th at Lincoln Center\u201d— solange knowles (@solange knowles) 1660663407
Solange is no stranger to success or innovation, evident by her 2016 album, A Seat at the Table, which garnered universal praise. Four tracks landed on Billboard’s Hot R&B Songs chart. That same year her single Cranes in the Sky won a Grammy for best R&B performance.
Just imagine what this will mean for the millions of little Black girls and boys with dreams of dancing who will see what’s sure to be a spellbinding ballet.
Solange’s piece will be choreographed by Gianna Reisen, and will premiere on September 28th, at Lincoln Center as part of NYCB’s Fall Fashion Gala. Knowles went on to announce that the yet-to-betitled production will be fully staged on Oct. 1st, 8th, 11th, and 16th, as well as May 2nd, 11th, 13th, 17th, and 18th in 2023 at NYC’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
I know I’ll be on the lookout for whatever Black girl magic Solange has up her sleeves. No matter what the title will be, this set is sure to be one for the history books!