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Farewell Harry Belafonte

I grew up with the voice of Harry Belafonte filling my living room with his tender, moving, and joyous songs. One of the few records we had was "Harry Belafonte at Carnegie Hall" and when dad was drinking he'd ask me to play it loud. Sometimes he'd even get up and dance to the calypso music. But he'd become silently sad when Harry sang "All my trials" about the baby whose mother is dying, as his did when he was a little boy.

Dad got a kick out of Harry singing "Hava Nagila" for the Jews and Danny Boy for the Irish. He liked Harry's version better than any Irishman's and asked me to sing it for him when we couldn't play the record. I learned that it was okay to cross cultural borders in art. And when dad expressed his appreciation for the beauty of Harry's body when he danced, I realized that it was natural for a man to see another man's body as beautiful.

It impressed me that Harry was not only an artist but a strong advocate for civil rights. This was the 60s and Harry befriended and supported MLK and other leaders. His beliefs influenced his career as he was a good actor but refused to act when he was offered only what he called Uncle Tom roles in films with negative racial stereotypes.

It was from Belafonte that I learned how artists can use their platform to be activist leaders. He organized a cultural boycott of South Africa, Live Aid concert, and the all-star "We are the world" recording to fight famine in Africa. He spoke out against those who advocated or perpetrated violence and injustice.

As he reflected on his 96 years he observed, “About my own life, I have no complaints. Yet the problems faced by most Americans of color seem as dire and entrenched as they were half a century ago.” I believe that if we live in this way, knowing that our efforts may not change the world, but that they will change something and simply by doing our best we will look back on our lives with satisfaction and without regrets.

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