My Song by Harry Belafonte
A Memoir

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Harry Belafonte is not just one of the greatest entertainers of our time; he has led one of the great American lives of the last century. Now, this extraordinary icon tells us the story of that life, giving us its full breadth, letting us share in the struggles, the tragedies, and, most of all, the inspiring triumphs.
Belafonte grew up, poverty-ridden, in Harlem and Jamaica. His mother was a complex woman—caring but withdrawn, eternally angry and rarely satisfied. His father was distant and physically abusive. It was not an easy life, but it instilled in young Harry the hard-nosed toughness of the city and the resilient spirit of the Caribbean lifestyle. It also gave him the drive to make good and channel his anger into actions that were positive and life-affirming. His journey led to the U.S. Navy during World War II, where he encountered an onslaught of racism but also fell in love with the woman he eventually married. After the war he moved back to Harlem, where he drifted between odd jobs until he saw his first stage play—and found the life he wanted to lead. Theater opened up a whole new world, one that was artistic and political and made him realize that not only did he have a need to express himself, he had a lot to express.
He began as an actor—and has always thought of himself as such—but was quickly spotted in a musical, began a tentative nightclub career, and soon was on a meteoric rise to become one of the world’s most popular singers. Belafonte was never content to simply be an entertainer, however. Even at enormous personal cost, he could not shy away from activism. At first it was a question of personal dignity: breaking down racial barriers that had never been broken before, achieving an enduring popularity with both white and black audiences. Then his activism broadened to a lifelong, passionate involvement at the heart of the civil rights movement and countless other political and social causes. The sections on the rise of the civil rights movement are perhaps the most moving in the book: his close friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr.; his role as a conduit between Dr. King and the Kennedys; his up-close involvement with the demonstrations and awareness of the hatred and potential violence around him; his devastation at Dr. King’s death and his continuing fight for what he believes is right.
But My Song is far more than the history of a movement. It is a very personal look at the people in that movement and the world in which Belafonte has long moved. He has befriended many beloved and important figures in both entertainment and politics—Paul Robeson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sidney Poitier, John F. Kennedy, Marlon Brando, Robert Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro, Tony Bennett, Bill Clinton—and writes about them with the same exceptional candor with which he reveals himself on every page. This is a book that pulls no punches, and turns both a loving and critical eye on our country’s cultural past.
As both an artist and an activist, Belafonte has touched countless lives. With My Song, he has found yet another way to entertain and inspire us. It is an electrifying memoir from a remarkable man.

From the Hardcover edition.

About Harry Belafonte

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Harry Belafonte's 1956 album Calypso made him the first artist in history to sell more than one million LPs. He has won both a Tony Award and an Emmy, and he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton. He has served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and is the recipient of Kennedy Center Honors for excellence in the performing arts. He currently resides in New York City with his wife, Pamela. Michael Shnayerson, a longtime contributing editor to Vanity Fair, is the author of Irwin Shaw; The Car That Could; The Killers Within, coauthored with Mark J. Plotkin, and Coal River, which recounted the efforts of Appalachian lawyers and grassroots groups to stop the devastating practice of mountaintop coal removal in southern West Virginia. Shnayerson's passion for those environmental activists was one reason Harry Belafonte chose him to collaborate on his autobiography. Shnayerson lives in Bridgehampton, New York, with his daughter, Jenna.
Published October 11, 2011 by Vintage. 480 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Humor & Entertainment. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Yet Belafonte’s bluntness and vast ego aren’t too hard to take, since they are so often applied to the service of others, not just in the ’50s and ’60s but into the ’80s with the “We Are the World” video for African famine relief and currently in his Gathering for Justice project to train minorit...

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The New York Times

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And for the next 12 years, that’s what I did.” As the Beatles arrive in 1964, Belafonte is still hot — a month after the Fab Four get 13 minutes on the Sullivan show, Bela­fonte gets 22 minutes — “but that giddy sense of being the hottest thing in showbiz — that would start to fade.” His...

Oct 21 2011 | Read Full Review of My Song: A Memoir

Publishers Weekly

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Belafonte, actor and activist, whose voice is known to millions for his opening line, “Day-O!” to “The Banana Boat Song,” stepped out of a life of poverty and up to a microphone in the late 1940s, launching a brilliant career as a singer, actor, and activist.

Sep 26 2011 | Read Full Review of My Song: A Memoir

Star Tribune

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That ultimately (though not easily) led to Belafonte's spectacular career.

Dec 03 2011 | Read Full Review of My Song: A Memoir

San Francisco Chronicle

Life gave him hard knocks - he was blinded in one eye as a youngster - but he also received good breaks: Among those who encouraged him were Eleanor Roosevelt and Paul Robeson, and when Belafonte made his debut as a jazz singer at the Royal Roost in 1949 at age 21, a regal quartet of players led ...

Oct 23 2011 | Read Full Review of My Song: A Memoir

Review (Barnes & Noble)

The big revelation of this book, perhaps even for those who remember Belafonte at the height of his matinee idol stardom, is just how integral he was to the nation's political life.

Oct 14 2011 | Read Full Review of My Song: A Memoir


His fame as a singer came about because his belief in “folk music as a tool for social change” gave his material a global style others didn’t have: with his use of Caribbean, American, Hebrew and other music, his act featured “different voices, but a shared humanity.” Many of the key moments in ...

Oct 26 2011 | Read Full Review of My Song: A Memoir

Bookmarks Magazine

It is a very personal look at the people in that movement and the world in which Belafonte has long moved.

Oct 17 2011 | Read Full Review of My Song: A Memoir

Austin Chronicle

Though he's known as the "King of Calypso" after becoming the first artist to sell more than a million albums with 1956's 31-week chart-topper Calypso, that's a footnote in Belafonte's remarkable life: a poverty-stricken childhood torn between Harlem and Jamaica, enlistment in the U.S. Navy while...

Dec 16 2011 | Read Full Review of My Song: A Memoir

The Anniston Star

I was introduced to Harry Belafonte the same way I imagine most people my age were: a dance number to “The Banana Boat Song” in Tim Burton’s 1988 movie “Beetlejuice.” Since then, I’ve always enjoyed Belafonte’s music — I even have “Calypso,” one of Belafonte’s best-selling albums, on vinyl.

Mar 16 2012 | Read Full Review of My Song: A Memoir

Fred Beauford

My first encounter with Harry Belafonte occurred as a teenager when his “Day-O” and “Jamaica Farewell” were at the top of the charts and calypso was all the rage.

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Curtis Brown

Harry Belafonte is not just one of the greatest entertainers of our time;

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