Harry Belafonte and ‘My Song’, a talk at the Royal Festival Hall

Jun 6, 2012

It’s not often that you get close to a living legend: someone who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Martin Luther King Jr. in the struggle for equal rights in America in the 1960s; one who lobbied a young senator, John F. Kennedy, into supporting the civil rights movement, generating historic change in the face of fierce opposition; the Calypso King, a performer who hung out with the Rat Pack and recorded Day-O (The Banana Boat song).

On Wednesday 6th June, Harry Belafonte gave a talk at the Royal Festival Hall to audience of around 1500 fans of all ages and backgrounds, proving that at 85, he still stands as tall and commanding as ever. His fire was undimmed, an old lion speaking with the wisdom of the ages. He was there to discuss his autobiography, My Song, co-written with Michael Shnayerson, in an interview compered by Kirsty Lang.

Belafonte walked onstage to thundering applause and a standing ovation. Grainy film clips reminded everyone why he still enjoys this level of adulation, as news footage and talking heads showed how much was achieved by his involvement in the civil rights movement.

Liz Thomson, editor of Bookbrunch, the publishing trade’s daily news magazine, was at the talk and said: “Harry Belafonte had it all - fame, fortune, good looks. He could simply have basked in that success. Instead, he chose to fight for a cause - his belief that "all men are created equal", whatever their colour or creed. Belafonte showed real moral and physical courage, and great personal generosity. He fought the good fight. Along the way, he made some beautiful records and used his power to bring Nana Mouskouri and Miriam Makeba to American TV audiences and gave Bob Dylan his first recording break. It's time to salute a real hero.”