Video from Live Talks Los Angeles event with Harry Belafonte in conversation with Tim Robbins discussing his memoir, My Song. Event was held November 28, 2011 at The Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.
An Evening with Harry Belafonte
in conversation with Tim Robbins
Entertainer Harry Belafonte‘s entire life has been about breaking barriers. He rose out of a poverty-stricken childhood to become the first performer ever to sell a million album copies (with his Calypso in 1956.) His stardom during the civil rights era straddled racial barriers that were only just being addressed. Throughout his career, he’s befriended many important figures in both entertainment and politics—Paul Robeson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sidney Poitier, John F. Kennedy, Marlon Brando, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro. In his new memoir, My Song, he writes about them–and his own life–with candor and insight.
Harry Belafonte was born in Harlem in New York City in 1927. Overwhelmed and intimidated by its ghetto streets and thinking the islands to be a safer place, his immigrant mother sent him back to the island of her birth, Jamaica. The island and all its variety became his cultural reservoir.
For doing repairs in an apartment (of Clarice Taylor and Maxwell Glanville), Belafonte was given, as his gratuity, a ticket to a production of Home is the Hunter at a community theatre in Harlem – the American Negro Theatre (A.N.T.). The world that the theatre opened up to him put Belafonte, for the first time, face to face with what would be his destiny – a life in the performing arts. He joined the Dramatic Workshop of the New School of Social Research under the tutelage of the renowned German director, Erwin Piscator. With classmates like Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur, Rod Steiger and Tony Curtis – just to name a few – Belafonte became thoroughly immersed in the world of theatre. Paralleling this pursuit was his interest and love of jazz. He developed a relationship with the young architects of the art form, the geniuses of modern jazz, and on the occasion of his first professional appearance, he had Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Tommy Potter and Al Haig as his “back-up band”. Since that launching, Belafonte has sustained an inordinately successful career.
His first Broadway appearance in John Murray Anderson’s Almanac earned him a Tony Award. As the first black producer in television, he won an Emmy for his CBS production of An Evening with Belafonte directed by Norman Jewison. At the dawning of his cinematic film career, Carmen Jones took top critical honors and attracted Oscar nominations.
Disturbed by cruel events unfolding in Africa due to war, drought, and famine, Belafonte set in motion the wheels that led to “We Are the World” on January 28, 1985. He contacted manager, Ken Kragen, and they, along with others, guided and directed the project known as USA for Africa. Belafonte was prominent in the contribution to the ending of the oppressive apartheid government of South Africa and for the release of his friend, Nelson Mandela after twenty-seven and a half years of incarceration.
Tim Robbins is the Artistic Director of the Actors’ Gang, formed in 1981. The Actors’ Gang has performed in over 40 US states and has toured internationally to London , Athens , Melbourne , Brisbane , Mexico , Spain and Hong Kong . With over 100 productions of originals as well as classic works to its credit, the company remains a vital and dedicated ensemble that offers free education programs for youth, goes into prisons to work with the incarcerated and offers affordable theatre for our community. As a playwright, he has written eight plays produced in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and at the Edinburgh Festival. In addition, his stage adaptation of “Dead Man Walking” is currently in its fifth year having been performed and introduced into the curriculums of over 150 universities nationwide. Having won the Academy Award as well as numerous other artistic accolades over the course of his career, Tim’s recent projects include the film “The Green Lantern” and HBO’s “Cinema Verite”, and he has just completed shooting the upcoming film “Thanks for Sharing.” He and The Rogues Gallery Band have just returned from national and international touring and have cut a new CD. Yet his passion for the stage has kept him deeply engaged as the Artistic Director at The Gang for 30 years.