Though born in New York, Belafonte spent many of his formative years in Jamaica, and the rich music he encountered as a boy there would have a profound effect on his future life. When he returned to New York, he attended George Washington High School and later served a stint in the United States Navy. After World War II, Belafonte took the first steps in building a career in entertainment, studying acting in the heady environment of the late 1940s and early 1950s. RCA Victor signed the young talent in 1952, but his career on the stage wasn't over yet, and he picked up both Tony and Theatre World Awards for his performance in 1953's John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Just a few short months before Almanac opened on Broadway, Belafonte's "Matilda" (one of the classics on When Colors Come Together) caught the public's fancy, becoming a staple in concert. But even greater things were yet to come.
1956's Calypso introduced many Americans to the genre, and became the first LP ever to surpass the one-million sales mark. It introduced two more smash signature songs for Belafonte, "Jump in the Line" and, of course, "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)." Both are included on the new collection. Belafonte went from one high point to another in his long tenure at RCA Victor, including successful 1959 and 1960 stands at Carnegie Hall (both recorded by the label), a performance at President John F. Kennedy's inaugural at the invitation of Frank Sinatra, and inevitable Hollywood fame with films like Oscar Hammerstein II's Bizet adaptation Carmen Jones (1954) and the controversial Islands in the Sun (1957) in which Belafonte's character is romanced by Joan Fontaine, a Caucasian. The title song of the latter film is included here, as is a new reinterpretation of it.
Island wouldn't be the last time Belafonte bravely tackled race relations in public view. Two more groundbreaking moments in his distinguished career came in 1968. He accepted NBC's invitation to fill in for Johnny Carson for an entire week of The Tonight Show, and he welcomed guests including Robert F. Kennedy, Lena Horne, Bill Cosby, The Smothers Brothers and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The same year, Belafonte guest-starred on a television special starring Petula Clark. During the duet performance of Clark's composition "On the Path of Glory," she gently touched her co-star's arm. Doyle Lott, representing sponsor Chrysler, objected, but Clark and her husband/producer Claude Wolff refused to reshoot. Lott later apologized to Belafonte, claiming his words had been relayed inaccurately; Belafonte later recalled responding, "Mr. Lott, I think you're being disingenuous with me. It was you who said those words. And your apology comes a hundred years too late."
When Colors Come Together features a cross-section of Belafonte's work, from those early calypso hits to timely material such as a 1970 rendition of "Abraham, Martin and John," plus folk and seasonal offerings ("On Top of Old Smokey," "Mary's Boy Child"), the gentle showtune "Try to Remember" (1966) and a pair of 1972 live tracks. The Belafonte classic "When Colors Come Together (Our Island in the Sun)" from the 1957 film Islands in the Sun has been newly recorded by a children's choir for this set.
Harry's son David Belafonte has penned the new liner notes for this collection, and explains of the new title track: "With the myriad of problems facing the world today, none embody the passion and life's work of Belafonte more than the issue of race. Coming from a background of diversity he evolved into a performing artist with a deep, lifelong commitment to social activism. In the spirit of that commitment and at the forefront of this important effort is a re-imagining of one of Harry's classic recordings that took the world by storm. We are proud to present 'When Colors Come Together (Our Island In The Sun)': re-interpreted for children; and re-recorded by children. We hasten to make the case that the concept of race is not a trait with which one is born, but instead an acquired disease that festers with age. As such, we looked to these young children as the voice of this expression through this reimagined song, dance, and art."
Legacy's celebration of an inspiring and remarkable life in song and social activism arrives in stores on February 24. It can be pre-ordered at the links below!
- When Colors Come Together (Our Island in the Sun)
- Jump in the Line
- Banana Boat (Day-O)
- All My Trials
- Empty Chairs
- Turn the World Around
- Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)
- Abraham, Martin and John
- On Top of Old Smokey
- Jamaica Farewell
- Brown Skin Girl
- Island in the Sun
- Those Three Are On My Mind
- Try to Remember
- Mary's Boy Child
- Look Over Yonder/Be My Woman, Gal (Live)
- Pastures of Plenty (Live)
Track 1 previously unreleased
Tracks 2 & 7 from Jump Up Calypso, 1961
Tracks 3, 12 & 13 from Calypso, 1957
Track 4 from Love is a Gentle Thing, 1959
Track 5 from Play Me, 1973
Tracks 6 & 9 from Belafonte, 1956
Track 8 from Turn the World Around, 1977
Track 10 from Belafonte by Request, 1970
Track 11 from The Midnight Special, 1962
Track 14 from Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean, 1957
Track 15 from Belafonte on Campus, 1967
Track 16 from In My Quiet Room, 1966
Track 17 from An Evening with Belafonte, 1956
Tracks 18-19 from Harry Belafonte...Live!, 1972