At 83, Harry Belafonte still sings of justice

Sat Jan 22, 2011 4:02pm EST
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By Bob Tourtellotte

PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - At age 83, his days of singing calypso tunes to thousands of fans are behind him, but Harry Belafonte says he still has one song to sing for people around the world -- his song of justice.

Belafonte is at the Sundance Film Festival this week with a new documentary, "Sing Your Song," that tells of his life from being born in Harlem and raised in Jamaica to becoming a star singer of the 1950s and '60s with hits such as "Banana Boat Song," also known as "Day-O."

But what the nonfiction film focuses on -- and what Belafonte thinks may be lost on some people, especially younger generations -- is the work he and others did to advance civil rights and justice in the United States and around the world.

The movie's title comes from something African-American singer Paul Robeson told Belafonte when he was a young man: "Get them to sing your song, and they will know who you are."

Asked what he believed his song was, at 83, Belafonte's answer was: "The same melody. It just needs to be sung again. What it needs are more voices of harmony. It's a beautiful chord that everybody gets to sing in the same place at the same time with the same purpose. The song is the same: justice."

"Sing Your Song" was among the opening night films this past Thursday at Sundance, the premiere U.S. festival for makers of movies outside Hollywood's mainstream studios.

The event, which is backed by actor and activist Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, has long been a place where independent filmmakers screen movies, and much of their work deals with social issues, so "Sing Your Song" fit perfectly.

In fact, on opening night festival director John Cooper said, "at our core, the life of Harry Belafonte and Sundance are almost intertwined."   Continued...

<p>Harry Belafonte poses for a portrait while promoting his documentary "Sing Your Song" during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 22, 2011. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>