Harry Belafonte had strong personal ties to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but he admits to mixed feelings about the new memorial to the civil-rights icon.
The Emmy-, Grammy- and Tony-winning subject of the documentary “Sing Your Song” — which has been shown at such film festivals as Sundance and Tribeca, and makes its HBO debut Monday, Oct. 17 — legendary entertainer and activist Belafonte tells Zap2it he’s “ambivalent” about the Washington, D.C., site that honors King.
“I think that to have gotten the nation behind the idea of a place on the Mall where a statue was erected to a force who, by all measures, commanded the best of the 20th century morally and socially is a validation that I’m proud our country could wind up making the commitment to. Now, that’s the positive side.
“The other side of it,” Belafonte adds, “is that a lot of people soiled the mission. Those who became the caretakers of the project were, once upon a time, our greatest detractors. And I’m not too sure the motive for the resources to put that statue up wasn’t ‘guilt money’ more than passion for a greater humanity.”
Belafonte also has reservations about the physical appearance of the statue that is set to be dedicated Sunday, Oct. 16, the 16th anniversary of the Million Man March on Washington’s National Mall. (Hurricane Irene prompted the postponement of the statue’s original August dedication date.)
“It would have been nice to have looked at other renderings and other ideas,” Belafonte reflects. “Although I respect the artist (China’s Lei Yixin) and understand the culture he came from, living under the influence of Mao Tse-tung, I see in the coldness of that marble carving the absence of a certain kind of spirituality that I think Dr. King represented.”
With a book, a CD and a number of live performances connected to the television premiere of “Sing Your Song,” Belafonte is thrilled by a career resurgence that also has seen the famous “Day-O” chant from his “Banana Boat Song” sampled in contemporary hits by Jason Derulo (“Don’t Wanna Go Home”) and Lil’ Wayne and Cory Gunz (“6 Foot 7 Foot”).
Additionally, Pitbull used some of Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line” in “Shake Senora,” which also featured T-Pain and Sean Paul. “An artist cannot do much with his art unless there’s a validation by those who see the art and approve of it,” Belafonte reasons. “When other artists step to the table and sift through your offerings and select things that inspire them, that’s a validation.
“That in itself is an anointing that I don’t view with false humility, but with a genuine regard for how fortunate I’ve been … that those things I so deeply believe in and fought for, and still do, should still have resonance among people who said, `Right on. We need to hear it. Don’t ever stop. Give us more.'”