Belafonte: A Beautiful Fountain
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
There were no shortage of great moments on last Thursday evening March 6, 2014. On that night Berklee College of Music honored Harry Belafonte, activist, humanitarian, actor, singer, truth teller - with an honorary doctorate and I was lucky to be in the number that evening to witness awe inspiring moment after moment after moment.
Each and every performance was perfect (no hyperbole). The show was visually stunning with many performing in bright colored ankara and other ethic flavored apparel. And that group of performers so accurately reflected the diversity of the Berklee community and the world.
It's impossible to say what exactly was my top favorite moment. Belafonte's speech included so many nuggets of wisdom and inspiration. He talked about his work down in Florida with The Dream Defenders which was especially meaningful to me having just this year worked to bring Ciara Taylor, the Political Director of the Dream Defenders, to Berklee for our MLK Celebration Brunch. In Belafonte's speech he passed down a message shared with him by actor and activist Paul Roberson calling "artists the guardians of truth." The connection to Ciara's message back in January that "artists are guardians of our future" was not lost on me. At the MLK brunch Ciara shared that "As artists, as guardians of our culture, your most important attribute to this world is your responsibility to not only guide the future of this nation, but countries across the globe through music." Thank you Universe for confirmation what I'm on the right path.
I was shocked to learn of Dr. Belafonte's connection to the 1984 film Beat Street. Despite owning Beat Street and having watched it more than any human should watch any one film, I had no idea his connection to it until last Thursday. Turns out Belafonte co produced the film as well as volumes 1 & 2 of the original motion picture soundtrack. He even wrote some of the soundtrack's songs.
I've since found this video of Dr. Belafonte, Kool Herc (the originator of hip hop, Mel E Mel, and others discussing the film at New York City's Schomburg Center back in August 2013.
I know my favorite moment included when from my 3rd row center vantage point I looked up and saw Dr. Belafonte singing "We Shall Overcome" and I began to ugly cry like a two year old. Sigh. You know in this space of reflection and appreciation I can still feel what I felt last Thursday. We all know there is something incredibly special - kinetic, electric, dynamic, palpable, visceral - when music and activism intersect. I a sensation that I haven't been able to shake since. …and I don't want to.
You can enjoy this second to last song of the show, an unreal rendition of "We are the World" on which Dr. Belafonte stood to join the performers.
Sigh. On Thursday evening we learned from Berklee President Roger Brown that a literal translation of his name Belafonte is "beautiful fountain."* Really? Really. And that's exactly what he is. He is a fountain that has poured love, and kindness, and generosity, and beauty, and compassion, and all good things to this world and its inhabitants. As I wrote in response to my friend's blog post TITLE TITLE , "if he can do all he did?!?! …we have no excuses. We each can use our lives to unselfishly do a fraction of what all he did to put this planet on the right path."
*BELLA in Spanish and Italian translates to "beautiful" in English
*FONTE Portuguese translates to "source" or "fountain" in English
From Wikipedia: Harry Belafonte (born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr.; March 1, 1927) is a Jamaican-American singer, songwriter, activist, and actor.