I think there may be some dispute between supporters of different candidates about who has the coolest celebrity endorsement, but for my money, the best one so far this campaign season is the endorsement of John Edwards today by Harry Belafonte.
Belafonte, who became famous in the 1950s by popularizing Calypso music from the Caribbean, has been a long time human rights activist. Among other things, he worked with the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement in the 1960s. He hasn’t stopped working for the betterment of humanity since.
The Life of Harry Belafonte
Belafonte with Sidney Poitier and Charlton Heston at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington
Like Robeson and other African-American entertainers, Belafonte’s success in the arts did not protect him from racial discrimination, particularly in the South of the United States. As a result, he refused to perform in the South of the U.S. from 1954 until 1961. In 1960, President John F. Kennedy named Belafonte as cultural advisor to the Peace Corps. Belafonte was an early supporter of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and one of Martin Luther King’s confidants. He provided for King’s family, since King made only $8,000 a year as a preacher. Like many civil rights activists, he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. He bailed King out of the Birmingham City Jail and raised thousands of dollars to release other imprisoned civil rights protesters. He financed the Freedom Rides, supported voter registration drives, and helped to organize the March on Washington in 1963.
In 1968, Belafonte appeared on a Petula Clark primetime television special on NBC. In the middle of a song, Clark smiled and briefly touched Belafonte’s arm, which made the show’s sponsor, Plymouth Motors, nervous. Plymouth wanted to cut out the segment, but Clark, who had ownership of the special, told NBC that the performance would be shown intact or she would not allow the special to be aired at all. American newspapers published articles reporting the controversy and, when the special aired, it grabbed high viewing figures. Clark’s gesture marked the first time in which two people of different races made friendly bodily contact on U.S. television.
And there’s a lot more…
In 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador. Following his appointment, Belafonte travelled to Dakar, Senegal, where he served as chairman of the International Symposium of Artists and Intellectuals for African Children. He also helped to raise funds, alongside more than 20 other artists, in the largest concert ever held in sub-Saharan Africa. In 1994 he went on a mission to Rwanda, and launched a media campaign to raise awareness of the needs of Rwandan children. In 2001 he went to South Africa to support the campaign against HIV/AIDS. In 2002, Africare awarded him the Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award for his efforts to assist Africa. In 2004 Belafonte went to Kenya to stress the importance of educating children in the region.
I’ve been a fan of Belafonte for many years, ever since my mother introduced me to his music when I was probably in junior high school. One year, my sisters and I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, and she told us she wanted a copy of Harry Belafonte’s hit record from the 1950s, “Calypso.” That was the first time I ever heard of him, and this great album quickly became one of my favorites. I got to see him in concert probably least about 20 years ago now, and it was a wonderful concert!
Since I am a fan of Harry Belafonte, I want to share with you a couple of entertaining videos of him that I found on YouTube. I hope you will enjoy these!
Harry Belafonte on the Smothers Brothers Show
Harry Belafonte on the Muppet Show
Harry Belafonte and Nat King Cole
Belafonte’s endorsement of John Edwards today
Here’s what Harry Belafonte had to say about John Edwards when he endorsed him today in South Carolina. (Article and Video here.)
Belafonte is a likable, friendly man: one genuinely concerned with people and the state of this country. He says John Edwards is the only candidate also concerned and compassionate enough to try and deal with it.
“I’ve looked at his platform on education, healthcare, poverty, what young people are going through and I have come to believe he’s the best candidate,” Belafonte said.
He says all the other candidates talk about the plight of the middle class, While only Edwards talks about the poor.
“I also happen to believe that had he not so forcefully and precisely put the issue of poverty into this campaign, I don’t think we’d be talking aobut it as much as we are,” Belafonte said.
Belafonte feels Edwards was sincere when he announced his candidacy in New Orleans, saying it showed a commitment to the people devastated by hurricane Katrina.
“I’ve talked with John Edwards. I’ve looked into heart and his soul,” Belafonte says.
He added that Edwards has the makings of a great president. Belafonte attended a rally with Edwards at the College of Charleston.
Thank you to this great humanitarian, Harry Belafonte, for recognizing and supporting the promise of another great humanitarian, John Edwards.
I would like to add to what I posted previously elsewhere and note that this was an endorsement coveted by others:
President Bill Clinton crashed Belafonte’s birthday party, which was taking place as the Democratic presidential contenders battled for the African-American vote. Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were in Selma, Ala., for the 42nd anniversary of the famous voting-rights march from Selma to Montgomery. [Bill Clinton went to Selma to join his wife for the commemoration.]
In his remarks, Clinton toasted Harry: “I was inspired by your politics more than you can ever know. Every time I ever saw you after I became president, I thought that my conscience was being graded, and I was getting less than an A. And every president should feel that way about somebody as good as you.”
I asked Harry how he felt about Clinton showing up: “I’m very flattered, OK, but I’m mindful of all the things that need to be done.” In his succinct reply, a lifetime of struggle remembered, a keen-edged skepticism. “He knows what I think. He said I didn’t give him an A.” I then asked him about both the Clintons and Obama going to Selma.
“We are hearing platitudes, not platforms. What do they plan to do for people of color, Mexicans, for people who are imprisoned, black youth? What are their plans for the Katrinas of America?”