Here is a gorgeous account of the large life of a Harlem boy, son of a Jamaican cleaning lady…and a ship's cook…who endured the grind of poverty under the watchful eye of his proud mother and waited for his chances, prepared to be lucky, and made himself into the international calypso star and popular folk singer…Scenes of extravagant waste, scenes of righteous angerrich contradictions aboundwith little attempt to explain them away, a mark of the honest autobiographer.
The New York Times Book Review
In My Song, a brave and spellbinding memoir…Belafonte tells a sweeping story: what it has meant to know politicians, janitors, jazzmen and presidents; how he fell heart-first into the civil rights movement, and the costsblacklists, McCarthyism, FBI agentsthat came with it; his long and mercurial friendship with Sidney Poitier; the pain of broken marriages; and the ghost of poverty.
The Washington Post
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. With lyrical grace, he chronicles his life from early childhood—where a violent father made life difficult for him, his brother, and his mother—and his first singing engagements, to the difficulties in his own marriages, the grueling life on the show circuit, and his later involvement in the civil rights movement and other social causes. After his hitch in the service, he enrolls in acting lessons with the American Negro Theater, where he meets his life-long friend, Sidney Poitier, and numerous other influential black actors. On a cold January night in 1949, the owner of the Royal Roost night club in New York asks Belafonte to sing a few numbers during intermission for Lester Young’s band; astonished and anxious, the young singer steps onto the stage and finds himself backed by Max Roach, Charlie Parker, Al Haig, and Tommy Potter, four of jazz’s greatest musicians, and his musical career takes off. These musicians’ generosity instill the same compassion in him, and his encounter with great concert singer, athlete, and actor Paul Robeson teaches him that he can use his music and his concerts as pulpits for important causes. Belafonte sometimes exhausts with too many details, but he mostly carries us liltingly along with his song that the best times always lie ahead as long as we take care of each other. (Oct.)
“An honest, in many ways important and genuinely revelatory autobiography. . . . My Song reveals, Belafonte was more than celebrity eye candy, burnishing his image with a little politically correct politicking. He not only talked the talk, but walked the walk. . . . My Song is more than fitting denouement for a life well lived.” —Curt Schleier, Seattle Times
“In My Song, a brave and spellbinding memoir written with Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Shnayerson, Belafonte tells a sweeping story . . . riveting . . . In these days of national and global uncertainty, with the numbers of poor steadily rising, there are lessons aplenty in the life of Harry Belafonte, as told in this surprising and revelatory book.” —Wil Haygood, Washington Post
“ . . . engrossing autobiographical account of a life devoted in equal parts to entertainment and social causes. My Song is rich with vivid scenes of Belafonte working as an adviser, mediator, fundraiser and implementer with such players as John and Robert Kennedy and King.” —Tom Nolan, San Francisco Chronicle
“Here is a gorgeous account of the large life of a Harlem boy . . . Scenes of extravagant waste, scenes of righteous anger—rich contradictions abound—with little attempt to explain them away, a mark of the honest autobiographer.” —Garrison Keillor, New York Times Book Review
“Absorbing . . .” —Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, New York
“To read Harry Belafonte's new memoir, My Song, is to discover a man who has packed enough life for 10 people into 84 years.” —“Morning Edition,” NPR
“Somewhere amid the accounts of when he became the first artist to sell a million copies of an album, the first black leading actor to romance a white leading actress in a major Hollywood film, and the man who was asked to help pick out the clothes that Martin Luther King Jr. would be buried in, you realize just how extraordinary Harry Belafonte’s life has been. If Belafonte had simply pursued one strand of that life - the immensely popular singer, the Tony Award-winning actor, the powerful political and social activist - it would have made fascinating material for a book. That he managed to cram all three into his 84 years makes My Song, his captivating memoir written with Michael Shnayerson, not only a sometimes exhausting chronicle of Belafonte’s own story but an intriguing look at US history from the late ’40s to the present. . . . One of the book’s triumphs involves the way Belafonte and Shnayerson manage to capture Belafonte’s distinctive voice . . . You can almost hear him narrate the story in his stately rasp.” —Sarah Rodman, The Boston Globe
“Bracingly opinionated autobiography from an American original, still provocative in his ninth decade.” —Kirkus (starred)
The noted entertainer and activist looks back over his tumultuous life.
Being the first singer to sell 1 million copies of an album (Calypsoin 1956) and writing his own ticket at the otherwise segregated Riviera in Las Vegas did little to assuage Belafonte's fury at the discrimination he had experienced before he made it big. Nor had the emotional scars healed from a poverty-stricken childhood with a severely depressed, impossible-to-please mother, he acknowledges in this forthright memoir, ably co-authored by veteran reporter Shnayerson (Coal River,2008, etc.).Not until he met Martin Luther King Jr. in 1956 did Belafonte find a way to channel his rage into the larger struggle for racial justice. He would become as well known for his unswerving commitment to civil rights as for his records and concerts. He planned strategy with King; funded the young rebels at the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council; acted as a liaison to the hesitant Kennedy administration; and recruited the celebrity-studded lineup for the March on Washington. Though never as big a movie star as his friend Sidney Poitier, about whom he writes with equal parts affection and competitiveness, Belafonte also had some successes in film, most notably opposite Dorothy Dandridge inCarmen Jones(1954) and in Robert Altman'sKansas City(1996). He recounts these highlights, as well as three marriages, four kids, a half-century in Freudian analysis, and lots more, with frankness and bite. He has mellowed not at all in old age, calling George Bush a terrorist in 2006 and judging President Obama to be insufficiently compassionate and committed to the poor. 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 minority youths in nonviolent activism.
Bracingly opinionated autobiography from an American original, still provocative in his ninth decade.