HBO's 'Sing Your Song' with Harry Belafonte a Monday must-see, preview

On October 17, Monday evening, HBO brings the remarkable life story of Harry Belafonte to the smallscreen.

At the past summer press tour in Beverly Hills, Mr. Belafonte spoke of how the documentary process and taking stock of his life affected him.

"The fact that it was more fun than I thought it would be," smiled Belafonte, who was there with HBO Executive producer Sheila Nevins. "The mission was far more creative than I had anticipated, and that I had the opportunity to go more deeply into places in the world that would reflect my political and social view. HBO is taking on this film as more than all that is evident. What it does is that it validates the mission."

Mr. Belafonte continued. "I was at a place last night in NAACP’s convention. One of the panels that it had was a panel on culture. And we talked about how artists can use themselves to illuminate. And I was fascinated at the fact that with most of the panel, which was black, there seemed to have been confusion, and there seemed to have been a dilemma as to what would happen if you dared put yourself in harm’s way politically. If you dared say something that displeased the power elite. And by doing this film and showing it, it flies in the face of that doubt and the absence of more missions like it. And I think that if it is successful critically as well as socially in audiences, then I think people will be encouraged to step more deeply into dealing with issues that they feel are taboo."

During the course of an inspiring life that has paralleled the American civil rights movement, Harry Belafonte used his humanitarian influence to advance causes of social justice, while forging a unique career punctuated by prestigious awards and industry firsts.

Filmmaker Susanne Rostock tells the life story of this remarkable artist and humanitarian in the intimate feature-length documentary Sing Your Song, debuting Monday night.

Mr. Belafonte’s memoir, “My Song,” was published by Knopf Oct. 11 while a companion music album, entitled “Sing Your Song:  The Music,” was released by Sony Masterworks Oct. 4.

From HBO

Groundbreaking singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte rose to fame in the U.S. in spite of segregation, and crossed over into mainstream America on his way to international stardom. 

Born into a rough Harlem neighborhood in 1927, Belafonte’s mother sent him to be raised in her native Jamaica to ensure his safety. During World War II, he returned to Harlem, and enlisted in the United States Navy.

His hit 1956 album “Calypso” made him the first artist in industry history to sell over a million LPs, and spawned the smash single “Banana Boat (Day-O).”  Though recognized with Grammy, Tony and Emmy® awards, Belafonte was blacklisted, harassed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), spied on by the CIA and FBI, and threatened by the Klan, state troopers and Las Vegas mafia bosses.

Distilled from more than 700 hours of interviews, eyewitness accounts, movie clips, excerpts from FBI files, and news and rare archival film footage and stills, some of which has never been seen before, the film reveals Belafonte as a tenacious hands-on activist who worked intimately with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., mobilized celebrities for social justice, participated in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and took action to counter gang violence, prisons and the incarceration of youth.

In addition to Belafonte, those interviewed include:  Tony Bennett, Diahann Carroll, Ruby Dee, Whoopi Goldberg, Quincy Jones, Coretta Scott King, Rep. John Lewis, Miriam Makeba, Nelson Mandela, Sidney Poitier, George Schlatter, Tom Smothers, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Andrew Young, as well as his children Adrienne Belafonte Biesemeyer, David Belafonte, Gina Belafonte (one of the film’s producers) and Shari Belafonte, former wife Julie Belafonte and current wife Pamela Belafonte.

Following an early performance by Belafonte at the Village Vanguard in New York City, his mentor, the great singer and actor Paul Robeson, offered this counsel:  “Get them to sing your song and they will want to know who you are.”

Mr. Belafonte attended acting classes with Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur, Rod Steiger and Tony Curtis. 

His musical career saw him performing with jazz lions Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Tommy Potter and Al Haig.

His appearance, in “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac,” earned him a Tony Award. 

He won an Emmy for his network production of “An Evening with Belafonte,” directed by Norman Jewison. 

His work in “Carmen Jones” garnered two Oscar nominations and a Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture (Musical/Comedy).

Mr. Belafonte’s compassion and social work led him to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who once said of his friend, “Belafonte’s global popularity and his commitment to our cause is a key ingredient to the global struggle for freedom and a powerful tactical weapon in the civil rights movement here in America.  We are blessed by his courage and moral integrity.”

This film was presented at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and the 2011 Berlin Film Festival, as well as the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.

Sing Your Song (105 minutes) airs Monday at 10 p.m. on HBO.

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