Synopses & Reviews
Harry Belafonte is not just one of the greatest entertainers of our time; he has led one of the great American lives of the last century. Now, this extraordinary icon tells us the story of that life, giving us its full breadth, letting us share in the struggles, the tragedies, and, most of all, the inspiring triumphs.
Belafonte grew up, poverty-ridden, in Harlem and Jamaica. His mother was a complex woman—caring but withdrawn, eternally angry and rarely satisfied. His father was distant and physically abusive. It was not an easy life, but it instilled in young Harry the hard-nosed toughness of the city and the resilient spirit of the Caribbean lifestyle. It also gave him the drive to make good and channel his anger into actions that were positive and life-affirming. His journey led to the U.S. Navy during World War II, where he encountered an onslaught of racism but also fell in love with the woman he eventually married. After the war he moved back to Harlem, where he drifted between odd jobs until he saw his first stage play—and found the life he wanted to lead. Theater opened up a whole new world, one that was artistic and political and made him realize that not only did he have a need to express himself, he had a lot to express.
He began as an actor—and has always thought of himself as such—but was quickly spotted in a musical, began a tentative nightclub career, and soon was on a meteoric rise to become one of the world’s most popular singers. Belafonte was never content to simply be an entertainer, however. Even at enormous personal cost, he could not shy away from activism. At first it was a question of personal dignity: breaking down racial barriers that had never been broken before, achieving an enduring popularity with both white and black audiences. Then his activism broadened to a lifelong, passionate involvement at the heart of the civil rights movement and countless other political and social causes. The sections on the rise of the civil rights movement are perhaps the most moving in the book: his close friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr.; his role as a conduit between Dr. King and the Kennedys; his up-close involvement with the demonstrations and awareness of the hatred and potential violence around him; his devastation at Dr. King’s death and his continuing fight for what he believes is right.
But My Song is far more than the history of a movement. It is a very personal look at the people in that movement and the world in which Belafonte has long moved. He has befriended many beloved and important figures in both entertainment and politics—Paul Robeson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sidney Poitier, John F. Kennedy, Marlon Brando, Robert Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro, Tony Bennett, Bill Clinton—and writes about them with the same exceptional candor with which he reveals himself on every page. This is a book that pulls no punches, and turns both a loving and critical eye on our country’s cultural past.
As both an artist and an activist, Belafonte has touched countless lives. With My Song, he has found yet another way to entertain and inspire us. It is an electrifying memoir from a remarkable man.
"Belafonte, actor and activist, whose voice is known to millions for his opening line, 'Day-O!' to 'The Banana Boat Song,' stepped out of a life of poverty and up to a microphone in the late 1940s, launching a brilliant career as a singer, actor, and activist. With lyrical grace, he chronicles his life from early childhood where a violent father made life difficult for him, his brother, and his mother and his first singing engagements, to the difficulties in his own marriages, the grueling life on the show circuit, and his later involvement in the civil rights movement and other social causes. After his hitch in the service, he enrolls in acting lessons with the American Negro Theater, where he meets his life-long friend, Sidney Poitier, and numerous other influential black actors. On a cold January night in 1949, the owner of the Royal Roost night club in New York asks Belafonte to sing a few numbers during intermission for Lester Young's band; astonished and anxious, the young singer steps onto the stage and finds himself backed by Max Roach, Charlie Parker, Al Haig, and Tommy Potter, four of jazz's greatest musicians, and his musical career takes off. These musicians' generosity instill the same compassion in him, and his encounter with great concert singer, athlete, and actor Paul Robeson teaches him that he can use his music and his concerts as pulpits for important causes. Belafonte sometimes exhausts with too many details, but he mostly carries us liltingly along with his song that the best times always lie ahead as long as we take care of each other." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Harry Belafonte is not just one of the greatest entertainers of our time; he has led one of the great American lives of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Now, at last, this extraordinary icon tells us about it all—his poverty-ridden childhoodin Harlem and Jamaica; his meteoric rise to become one of the world’s most popular singers, breaking down racial barriers that no one had broken before, achieving equal popularity with white and black audiences; his lifelong, passionate involvement at the heart of the civil rights movement and countless other political and social causes. Along the way he’s befriended many beloved and important figures in both entertainment and politics—Paul Robeson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sidney Poitier, John F. Kennedy, Marlon Brando, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro—and writes about them with the same exceptional candor and insight with which he reveals himself on every page.
As both an artist and an activist, Belafonte has touched the lives of countless men and women. With My Song, he has found yet another way to entertain and inspire us. It is an electrifying memoir from a remarkable man.
Harry Belafonte, American icon and one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century, tells the story of his amazing life. For the first time, this extraordinary icon discusses it all, from his poverty-ridden early childhood in Harlem, to his glamorous rise to become the world's most popular singer, to his committed, lifelong involvement with countless political and social causes.
About the Author
Harry Belafonte’s 1956 album Calypso
made him the first artist in history to sell more than one million LPs. He has won both a Tony Award and an Emmy, and he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton. He has served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and is the recipient of Kennedy Center Honors for excellence in the performing arts. He currently resides in New York City with his wife, Pamela.
Michael Shnayerson, a longtime contributing editor to Vanity Fair, is the author of Irwin Shaw; The Car That Could; The Killers Within, coauthored with Mark J. Plotkin, and Coal River, which recounted the efforts of Appalachian lawyers and grassroots groups to stop the devastating practice of mountaintop coal removal in southern West Virginia. Shnayerson’s passion for those environmental activists was one reason Harry Belafonte chose him to collaborate on his autobiography. Shnayerson lives in Bridgehampton, New York, with his daughter, Jenna.