From New York Magazine:
In 1956, a Harlem-bred child of Caribbean immigrants released the first million-selling LP in history—Harry Belafonte was bigger than Elvis. But where Elvis built Graceland, Belafonte used the proceeds from Calypso to bankroll his friend Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement for civil rights.
In an absorbing new memoir, My Song, as well as an HBO documentary, “Sing Your Song,” Belafonte recounts a life that took him from an impoverished childhood in Harlem and Jamaica to studying theater, as an angry young man in the postwar Village, with his close friend Marlon Brando; to finding pop success, in the fifties, as a smiling folksinger and America’s first black matinee idol; to becoming, in the years surrounding John Kennedy’s assassination and the March on Washington, perhaps the key go-between for King’s movement and the federal government.
The only man to speak to both King and Bobby Kennedy on a daily basis through those years, Belafonte also persuaded JFK to approve airlifting a planeload of Kenyan students to America in 1961. That a certain Barack Obama Sr. was on that plane, one feels, isn’t the sole link to draw between his son and a figure whom the future president’s mother grew up adoring as “the handsomest man in the world,” according to one account. West Indian-American, angry charmer, elder radical, critic of a president who would not have been possible without him—Belafonte is a man of many conflicting identities, all of which he’s needed to help change the world.
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