Harry Belafonte

I grew up with Harry Belafonte’s music. Among the first albums I remember hearing was “Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall”, released in 1960. Along with Belafonte I learned about the Chad Mitchell Trio, Miriam Makeba, and Odetta, and first heard the isXhosa language. At that same time I learned of The Limeliters, The Kingston Trio, Leadbelly, and Josh White; soon to be followed by The New Lost City Ramblers, The Weavers, Robert Johnson, Flatt and Scruggs; and by then I was hooked – with the folk revival soon to expand with new topical music by the likes of Bob Dylan, Richard & Mimi Fariña, and Phil Ochs. Delta blues led to Chicago blues and music had washed over me (and put me out of touch with my pop-music listening peers).

Belafonte lived from March 1, 1927 until April 25, 2023. Belafonte was a civil and human rights activist, singer, and actor. He introduced white America to calypso. Is that why we later learned of reggae and ska?

Belafonte also made it okay for white women to lust after Black men. White men were always allowed to lust after Black women – that’s how Thomas Jefferson had his children and biracial children appeared in the US – the progeny of enslaved women and their rapist enslavers. But check out this video of Belafonte on Ed Sullivan and see how the barely acceptable sexuality of Elvis Presley morphed into the acceptable sexuality of a Black man.

There is nothing overtly sexual in the portrayal, but here is a handsome Black man in a vest without a shirt. He is not portrayed as dangerous.

In 1957 he appeared opposite Joan Fontaine in “Island in the Sun”, banned in parts of the US due to its depiction of love between a Black man and white woman.

For those Deadheads who first heard this song as sung by Bob Weir, this is Belafonte singing “Man Smart, Woman Smarter” in Japan in 1960. It was released on his 1956 Album “Calypso”. While the Dead began performing this in 1981, it was first recorded by its composer, Norman Span, in 1936.

Belafonte appeared opposite Dorothy Dandridge in the 1954 film “Carmen Jones”, an adaptation of the Georges Bizet opera “Carmen”. Despite Belafonte’s career as a singer, his singing voice was dubbed.

For those who want the full effect, here is the album that introduced me to Belafonte.

While the visual memory I have is the “Returns” album cover, all of the songs on the first Carnegie Hall album are equally familiar.

The world has lost a great person, singer, actor, and activist. Harry Belafonte – ¡Presente!

Roller Coaster/Cuomo/COVID/God

Wednesday night’s ride was a roller coaster. We climbed 600 feet in the first five miles. That may not sound like much but, extrapolated over the distance of the Death Ride, it was the climbing equivalent of the Death Ride.

While the Death Ride goes

this ride went

Few people showed up for the ride. Maybe it was the tornado the night before. Maybe it was the dewpoint of 75 degrees F (24 C), which means even your sweat is sweating. Evaporative cooling only works when sweat can evaporate. Maybe it was the tornado watch in effect.

The sky started darkening several miles in, but I could see lighter sky to the west of the dark area. No big deal. It got darker. I flipped my cue sheet from the long route to the short route and checked to see where the turnoff was. Thunder rumbled in the distance. I saw the Highway JG sign and figured that was an even shorter cut. I made the turn. Lightning flashed in the distance. A few drops began to fall. I hit the steep downhill into Mt Vernon as it began to look like real rain. Back at the meetup point, a few people who had gone out earlier than I (or arrived later and didn’t bother to get their bikes out) were having a beer. I joined them and we had a good 15 minutes before the rain really started and we headed home. As I turned into my driveway, the tornado warning came. (It was miles away and weakening fast, so really was no big deal – unlike the night before. We got neither wind nor rain at my house.)

Roller coaster reminded me of a Doris Day song from 1960 – “No” – by Lee Pockriss and PJ Vance. Together they wrote Perry Como’s hit “Catch a Falling Star” and Bryan Highland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini”, so you can tell they were contenders for the Nobel Prize that Bob Dylan won. Of course, they were also responsible for “Leader of the Laundromat”, a parody of the Shangi-Las’ “Leader of the Pack.”

This video, while starring the Shangri-Las, is a parody of itself. Note Robert Goulet trying (and failing) not to laugh.

“No” appeared on a Doris Day album that I think was thrown in when we bought a console stereo. Those free albums were where I learned of the “classics” like Hugo Winterhalter and learned not to like musicals. I also learned of Harry Belafonte and The Chad Mitchell Trio from those early albums, so it wasn’t all bad. I can’t find a recording of “No” online (or even many references to its existence), but it (along with “Baby It’s Cold Outside”) celebrates rape culture and excuses conduct such as that alleged by (former) Governor Andrew Cuomo. Even as a child I recognized something wrong with this song. Lyrics include:
“Every time I let you kiss me, kiss me
My heart goes on a roller coaster ride.
And every time I let you kiss me, kiss me
I get those little butterflies inside me.”
From this verse we learn that kissing is not mutual and does not involve consent, but is something a woman acquiesces to; something a man wants and a woman lets him have.
If that was too subtle, the chorus says:
“Don’t you know
That a girl means yes
when she says no.”
Maybe Andrew Cuomo took this to heart.

Martha wrote of Covidiots today. Another person made the news for dying after thinking that COVID was a hoax and another died thinking God would save him. It reminded me of a story from Hurricane Katrina…

A woman sat alone in her house as the floodwaters rose. A boat pulled up to her window and offered to help her evacuate. She said, “No thanks. God will save me.” The floodwaters continued to rise. She climbed the stairs to the second floor. A boat came by, evacuating the neighborhood. She said, “No thanks. God will save me.” The waters continued to rise. She climbed out on her roof. As she clung to the chimney amidst the rising waters, a helicopter lowered a basket to her. She yelled up, “No thanks! God will save me!” As the water rose up to her chin, she cried out, “God! What have I done? Why won’t you save me from this flood?” God answered, “I already sent you two boats and a helicopter. What more do you want?”

The COVID census is rising in the hospital where I work. My next tour of duty comes as soon as my intern graduates (in two weeks). Stay tuned. Happy Friday the 13th.