Harry Belafonte recently received an award from the TransAfrica Forum. As he entered the hall at Howard University in Washington DC, wafting through the public address system was his signature tune: “Day-o, day-ay ay-o…Daylight come and me wanna go home.”
As the large crowd of civil rights activists, celebrities and ambassadors gave Belafonte a standing ovation the big screen flashed snapshots of his career including photos of Belafonte with Martin Luther King Jnr and Bobby Kennedy.
At 79, the old entertainer in his response was stingingly prophetic. In January this year he led a delegation to Venezuela to talk with President Chavez and he reported on this visit. On George Bush, he boldly labelled him as “the greatest terrorist in the world.”
Some think Belafonte in his old age is going too far but throughout his entire career he has pushed the boundaries and been uncomfortable. In taking up the cause of Martin Luther King Jnr he told the audience, “I was a threat for my middle class and white audience.”
But to prove the usefulness of such unpopular protest Belafonte said, “Now look how far the mainstream edge has moved. Dr King is [now] a holiday.”
It was vindication to see Belafonte receiving a lifetime service award because his prophetic work has come at a cost.
When asked what has sustained him Belafonte looked back and recalled some advice he got from his role model, the blacklisted singer, Paul Robeson.
Robeson told him, “Get them to sing your song and they’ll want to know who you are.”
“Sure enough,” Belafonte said, I woke up one day and the whole world was singing ‘Day-o’ ‘Daylight come and me wanna go home!’
Source: David Montgomery, ‘Controversial Entertainer’, LA Times; Washington Post; Gulf News, 13 April 2006.
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Image: Harry Belafonte