Harry Belafonte comes to the Wortham as the spring headliner presented by the Brilliant Lecture Series.
Belafonte's Calypso (1956), featured traditional Caribbean folk music, and was so wildly popular it became the first album ever to sell one million copies.
Belafonte with Martin Luther King. The pair had a deep friendship and the singer was one of the Civil Rights leader's staunchest supporters.
Although VIP tickets are sold out, you can still obtain a regular ticket, to hear singer, actor, and activist Harry Belafonte speak out tonight, 7 pm, at the Wortham Center in Houston.
Belafonte, who turns 90 on March 1 holds a triple crown of awards recognizing his talent — an Emmy, Oscar, and multiple Grammys (including Lifetime Achievement in 2000). He is also a 1994 National Medal of Arts Recipient.
Belafonte, who no longer sings, is taking to the stage to confront issues of Civil Rights and social justice. The subject of a recent New York Times profile, the New York-based talent stepped into the political fray in 2016, endorsing Bernie Sanders.
In a conversation on the phone earlier this week, the Harlem-born, American legend shared some thoughts with PaperCity.
PaperCity: Why are you coming to Houston now?
Harry Belafonte: I’m invited by a speaker’s bureau to come to Houston, to speak to the citizens.
PC: I know it’s the Brilliant Lecture Series, and they are very focused on bringing voices and people of significance internationally. Now can you let us in on some topics you’re going to discuss?
HB: I’m going to talk about my life, and my social and political and cultural connections on that journey and… where we are today, and once I get through that, that’s about five hours of lectures, and people will walk out, and that’ll be the end of the day (laughing).
PC: Well I don’t think anyone will be walking out on that. Now I wanted to talk about Dr. Cormier. We’ve done stories on Dr. Yvonne Cormier — who will be interviewing you — and I know she and her husband Rufus are good friends with the Clintons, going really far back. Have you known Dr. Cormier well or do you have a friendship with her?
HB: No… Well I’m coming to Houston to meet her then.
PC: What do you want the audience to focus on when they hear you?
HB: These are turbulent times that which we live and I think Donald Trump and where we are in this country is a bit of a mess… and the fact that there’s this tyrant in the bit of our midst… that America is in a place of big jeopardy. People in the world don’t like us; people in our communities are confused.
One thing I respect Donald Trump for is that he takes the ambivalence out of the question of racism. He’s a racist, and he speaks on very negative terms about people. And for some reason, that is not explainable, America has voted this man to become our leader, and he’s challenged our community to have opposing thoughts.
One thing I respect Donald Trump for is that he takes the ambivalence out of the question of racism. He’s a racist, and he speaks on very negative terms about people.
And I think those thoughts need to be heard, and that is part of what I’ll be talking about in Houston.
PC: Yes, this is the time… I want to ask you because being a person in arts and culture — you have had a platform, which you have employed. Would you like to see more members of the cultural community really speaking out?
HB: Yes, I’d like to see that. I think it would be productive and fun and meaningful because artists have a lot to say. Not any artist, by any means. Some artist are quite shallow and are not about very much in life.
But there are others that are very much committed to the truth and human development and I think the more of those artists that step on that platform and speak out, the better our communities will be for that act.
PC: Which other artists do you consider kindred souls?
HB: A lot of artist out there that are saying and doing things that are meaningful, a lot of them come out of the rap culture, like Common. Common is a wonderful artist and does a great job. I like Chuck D and the artists of Public Enemy.
I find that there’s a lot of artist that don’t get a platform, because the press doesn’t talk about them — because the press wants us to be entertainers and not to be provocateurs.
But those of us who are chosen to shake the tree… are having a good time, and there’s a lot of artists who can do that.
PC: I think it’s important to stir it up. Now what advice do you give to to millennials?
HB: I would say to them that you’re living in the most exciting time in human evolution.
The civilization that we’re in is filled with opportunity and quite diverse — and they should not waste the opportunity …
Don’t waste your time [by being] self-anointed and preoccupied with getting rich or being selfish about what your family needs. Step in here and try to make a difference…
They can do it, the question is will they do it. And that’s how you speak, to try and encourage people that they can do it because it’s been done by others. It’s been done by Nelson Mandela, by Dr. King, by Eleanor Roosevelt — when people step out into opportunity and made a difference to our community. And that’s what I think it should be about.
Life is a constant. It changes form generation to generation. And each generation has a set of opportunities. We make the world what we want it to be.
Don’t let difficulty intimidate you. Look at it as an opportunity to change.
Buy tickets for Harry Belafonte’s speech here.