“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.
When Noah Kahan played at Radio City Music Hall in August, he encouraged everyone in the room to go to therapy. He went into an anecdote about how his mother recognized that he was a “weird kid” by age 8 and sent him straight to the shrink. Some kids might have taken offense, but he’s eternally grateful. Therapy helped Kahan overcome feelings like depression and anxiety and evolve into the performer we know and love.
But his actions go beyond his words with The Busyhead Project, a charity he created with his team with one goal: raise one million dollars for organizations specializing in mental health awareness and resources. Named after his 2019 debut, Busyhead, the Project has shown us all the ways Kahan is willing to help others. SPOILER ALERT: he’s well over that goal.
Starting in May 2023, Noah Kahan used his Stick Season Tour, digital campaigns, and donors to support mental health organizations such as Teenline, JACK.org, JED Foundation, and Here Tomorrow. You can buy charity packages for his upcoming We’ll All Be Here Forever arena tour — which includes a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden — which donates a portion of the sales to a mental health organization.
In order to normalize talking about mental health, Kahan has been transparent about his own struggles. In a TIME op-ed, Kahan wrote:
“As I’ve been touring the country supporting my record Stick Season, many people have told me my music saved their lives—that I gave them the strength to carry on. Though flattered and honored, I am inclined to disagree.
The strength it takes to get through difficult moments and complicated challenges, mental and physical, comes from within. Any person brave enough to share that they have made it through a struggle deserves every ounce of credit for making it to the other side. As the artist Grandson often says: ‘You did this yourself.’”
Kahan has had a breakthrough year with his Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever) deluxe album breaking records, collaborating with mega-names in the industry like Hozier, Post Malone, Kacey Musgraves, and more, and completing not one, but two tours for the album.
However, despite the success, Kahan remains unrelentingly humble- offering self-deprecating jokes and staying active on his social media accounts to connect with fans. It’s part of his charm, but also a comforting reminder that we’re all dealing with our own demons deep down. And that not even the famous are immune to mental health problems.
While music can be a healing agent in its own right, there’s no doubt that therapy can benefit pretty much everyone. Having someone unbiased in your life to talk to, even about the mundane aspects of life, can give you an outlet to discover yourself. And when trouble arises, you have the coping skills to get through them.
Kahan tells TIME,
“It’s a stark reminder of the truth that I have had to come to terms with: there is no perfect ending or conclusion in my journey with my mental health. These problems will likely be with me forever. The difference is now I know I can treat them with therapy, meditation, and medication. I can talk about them with friends and family. I can write them down, and I can make them smaller.
Dedicating my craft to opening up about my mental health has provided me with an arsenal to live a meaningful life, and to not be defined by the chemicals in my brain.”
When the flooding in Vermont happened, Kahan directed The Busyhead Project's efforts towards providing relief to victims. He released exclusive merchandise and performed a show, earning over $150,000 in donations for life-saving measures.
To date, Kahan has raised $1.9 million to aid mental health organizations and provide necessary resources. You can learn more about The Busyhead Project and Noah Kahan’s work on his website.