Gosh. Some of the loveliest music of my childhood, from a man who lived through, took risks, and stood tall, during a difficult, and often infamous time in which people of his color were regarded by some as less-than-human.
I don’t remember many of those occasions. But this one, I do. Harry Belafonte and Petula Clark sang a duet on American TV, during which she touched and held his arm. The year was 1968 (I was 14), one which lives large in history of the United States for other reasons besides this one.
Prior to the show, its sponsor’s representative–from Plymouth Motors–had tried to get Belafonte removed altogether. The arm touch lead to an angry outburst from Doyle Lott, Plymouth’s head of advertising and a slew of public complaints and tut-tutting from the national media, but ultimately Clark’s refusal to allow the clip to be edited from the show, cemented–according to the Telegraph:
Belafonte’s position as the most committed and courageous activist of his generation.
Frankly, I think Petula Clark deserves a bit of credit there, too.
48 hours after the show was aired, Martin Luther King–a close friend of Belafonte’s–was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
Belafonte didn’t shy away from controversy in his later life either, somehow managing–at one time or another–to enrage folks on both sides of the racial divide. But ultimately, he said he’d like his epitaph to read, “Harry Belafonte, Patriot.”
I hope so.
And now, some of my fondest recollections:
I just love this:
You were saying?
The movie (and the song) that started it all. Given the subject matter (although it was set in the West Indies), some of the cast members received death threats, and the film was banned in several southern US cities, including Memphis, Tennessee.
And, most of all:
Harry Belafonte died at the age of 96, on April 25, 2023.