For the first time since Donald Trump’s presidential election win, legendary musician Harold George “Harry” Bellanfanti, Jr., better known as Harry Belafonte, sounds off with his thoughts on the nation’s new leader.
Earlier this week, the 89-year-old activist addressed more than 2K people, as they gathered to celebrate Democracy Now!’s 20th anniversary at New York City’s historic Riverside Church — which just so happens to be the same place of worship where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his 1967 address against the Vietnam War, Democracy Now! reports. Belafonte said:
“In a few weeks from now, if there is a platform on which I will be privileged to stand and speak, my opening remarks will probably be something like ‘Welcome to the Fourth Reich.’ I was talking with a comrade recently. He was a victim of the Third Reich. He was a victim of the great Holocaust and what happened to the Jewish people during the reign of Hitler. And all my life I have committed myself to making sure that here, this country, not for the want of effort, but I and so many others would be forever committed to the idea that America will remain an open and a free and a democratic society. With each cycle, those thoughts become a bit dimmed. Now, I think, more than ever, we are in need of Democracy Now!
I’m just at the threshold of my 90th year, and I had often—who said that? I never thought I’d live this long, but to be able to share an evening with Danny Glover, and certainly with Noam Chomsky, for whom I have great affection and deep respect, that I can kind of dance out of here feeling like, well, I did it all. But, in a way, each time it was done, we kind of figured it was the last time we would have to do it. During a lifetime of Paul Robeson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, those who mentored me and guided me and inspired me, that I should have lived long enough to be able to stand here and once again say thanks to all my colleagues, to all of my comrades, to all of the people who have sacrificed so greatly to make this nation whole—we are looking upon a curious time. But I think it’s a time that should be used as an opportunity to know that we have to make a much bigger difference than we’ve made up to now. We should not let the current state of affairs dull the fact that all that we have done was worthless. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The son of Jamaican immigrants, Belafonte grew up on the bustling streets of Harlem, New York. In 1956, he became the first recording artist in history to sell over 1 million albums within a year, with the release of his breakthrough LP, Calypso.
In 1965, the “Angelina” crooner spearheaded a historic call to action, as Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, Joan Baez, Sammy Davis, Jr., Nina Simone, Peter, Paul & Mary and Leonard Bernstein assembled on an outdoor stage constructed of caskets from a local Black-owned funeral home to perform for weary marchers. Following King’s assassination, in 1968, the singer, who is currently approaching for his 90th birthday, quietly provided funds for King’s family.
Most recently, Belafonte along with his social justice nonprofit, Sankofa, held a one-of-a-kind event, billed as “a festival of music, art and justice,” featuring Common, John Legend, Macklemore, Santana, Dave Matthews and Public Enemy. The happening, which took place on a farm in Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia, brought out more than 22K attendees — donating all proceeds to the organization’s partners, focusing on the issues of mass incarceration and criminal justice, Billboard reported at the time.
What are your thoughts on Belafonte’s reaction to Trump’s rise to leadership?