“You can cage the singer, but not the song”: Honoring the life and work of Harry Belafonte through 10 of his best quotes


Civil rights activist and entertainer Harry Belafonte passed away April 25 at the age of 96. The voice of the “Calypso King” was remarkably listened to, not just because of his silky singing voice, but also because of his incessant determination to fight for equality. The multi-talented Harlem native lived during a time when segregation, racism, and poverty were much more prevalent than today. But even in his later years, he still expressed his concerns about the problems that are going on in the United States.

Here are a few quotes that Harry Belafonte left for us to ponder and be inspired by.

10 Inspirational Harry Belafonte Quotes

  1. I think there’s no city quite like New York,” the singer added, “and I’ve seen most of the developed cities of the world. I admire this place, its energy. It’s the repository of so much history and culture and diversity. I think New York City most represents what it is that America in general aspires to. It’s big, it’s dense. I’ve known this city from all of its social arcs. The best that’s in America is yet to come. The worst that’s in America is yet to come, Harry Belafonte said in a New York Times interview.
  2. You can cage the singer, but not the song.”
  3. Although slavery may have been abolished, the crippling poison of racism still persists, and the struggle still continues, the singer articulated this statement during the 2010 rally in Washington DC.
  4. Peace is necessary. For justice, it is necessary. For hope, it is necessary, for our future. Harry Belafonte ended with this statement during the 2010 Washington DC rally.
  5. My activism always existed. My art gave me the platform to do something about the activism.
  6. America has never been moved to perfect our desire for greater democracy without radical thinking and radical voices being at the helm of any such quest, Harry Belafonte said during his National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Spingarn Medal acceptance speech in 2013.
  7. I’ve always been supportive of the right of Israel as a state, and I’ve always fought against anti-Semitism, even in my own community, he expressed in an interview with Cybercast News Service.
  8. The pursuit of justice is all I have ever known.”
  9. In poor environment, I find great inspiration. Many of the men and women whom I admire as artists, the things they write, the songs they sing, the admission is filled with inspired moments to overcome oppression.
  10. Art in its highest form is art that serves and instructs society and human development.

Harry Belafonte Facts

  • Harry Belafonte was born on March 1, 1927, to parents of Jamaican descent.
  • His full name was Harold George Bellanfanti Jr.
  • Perhaps his most well-known song is “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)
  • Harry Belafonte was the first African-American to win an Emmy Award.
  • He’s a recipient of various awards related to his activism.
  • He received the Grammy’s Presidential Merit Award for his “significant and meaningful contributions to the recorded arts and musical culture,”
  • Harry Belafonte was given the Kennedy Center Honors,
  • He also received the National Medal of the Arts from former President Bill Clinton,
  • Last 2000, Harry Belafonte was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 42nd Academy Award,
  • His activism was also honored by being the recipient of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
  • Harry Belafonte was the first African-American actor to play a lead role in a romantic film alongside a white leading lady, Joan Fontaine.
  • He was also the first solo artist to sell a million LP copies.
  • Harry Belafonte was the first African-American man to host a late-night show — he hosted the Tonight Show last 1959 for a CBS special; this subsequently led to his Emmy win.
  • He was also the first black man to win a Tony Award on Broadway.
  • In 1968, when Harry Belafonte’s arm was innocently touched by Petula Clark — while they were singing “On the Path of Glory” — the sponsors of the show demanded that they redo their performance, as it was unusual and controversial for a white woman to touch a black man, but both singers refused.
  • Harry Belafonte and Martin Luther King Jr. were close friends.
  • Back in the ‘50s, when Americans were still extremely segregated, Harry Belafonte’s racist landlord tried to kick him out of his 300 West End Avenue apartment. (He initially used the name of a white friend of his — until his landlord found out.) The Calypso singer then rallied his friends and purchased the whole Manhattan apartment — which he later converted into a co-op.
  • The 1985 hit song “We Are the World” was Harry Belafonte’s idea; he wanted to raise money to help Africa with its famine crisis.

In Closing…

Through his talent and activism, Harry Belafonte broke several barriers. But he fought hard by voicing out what he stood for — in order to achieve his accolades and recognition. In the end, we can say that he did those not just for himself, but also for the hundreds and thousands of others who are just like him — a minority who faced countless types of discrimination. And although the singer now lies silent, his songs do not. 

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