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My Song: A Memoir Hardcover – 11 Oct 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 469 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group (11 Oct 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307272263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307272263
  • ASIN: 0307272265
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 3.9 x 24.3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 527,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 78 reviews
72 of 75 people found the following review helpful
Amazing story of an extra ordinary man's life and struggles 17 Oct 2011
By Isaac Miller - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As a younger man I believe I was jealous of Belafonte. All the girls, and not a few older women, swooned at his good looks. I think I realized that Banana Boat told the story of the farm workers I saw in cotton fields and peach orchards. I knew something of his close association with Martin Luther King, and of his broader fundraising for the Movement as a whole. I saw his movies, and think I recall his sitting in for Johnny Carson. I knew of his involvement in Africa and his work on behalf of the UN. I had no idea of the depth of his involvement or the skill he brought as a negotiator in behalf of so many causes. In an age in which celebrity, it seems, is sought by any means necessary, he shows, perhaps more than any one I can think of, how such notoriety can be put to the service of worthy ends.
Will he make it past the scars of early poverty and other demons of his growing up? Will he make it past grief at the deaths of heroes and close friends and the break up of marriages, the loss of dear friendships? Will he maintain the integrity that is threatened in this culture by both wealth and celebrity? Will he throw in the towel? There is an element of suspense in My Song that makes it a gripping companion to Taylor Branch and the work of others As I read I found myself almost praying for him. Strike the "almost".
In a sense the prayers are not just for Harry Belafonte, but for all of us. Handsome or not, known to many or just a few, something about Belafonte's story says that we can step up, and he encourages us, all of us, to continue to struggle to do so.
For those who seek to keep the legacies of King and Robeson, Mandela and Fannie Lou Haimer, Ella Baker and Malcolm X alive, this is a book to be cherished. For folks of faith there is much to be learned about how we can all be used by God.
Church folk of a certain stripe will be celebrating All Saints soon. I would suggest this is a highly appropriate book for this season in these times. It is a book that is probably necessary for all of us in all times.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
The Last of the Black renaissance Men 21 Oct 2011
By Herbert L Calhoun - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I doubt if we will ever again see the likes of Mr. Harry Belafonte (HB), or the likes of an autobiography as meaty and as life affirming as this one. No one else in the American entertainment firmament will ever have as the back up group to his nineteen year old "coming out debut:" Charley Parker, Max Roach, Al Haig, and Tommy Potter! And that is just for openers. From that auspicious beginning, Harry Belafonte's life, although it did not get easier, did just keep on getting more and more interesting.

Here is a story full of life -- that is to say full of its challenges, tragedies, pathos and victories, both lows and highs -- that challenge and warm the human spirit. But somehow too, it is a life in which against all odds the good guy keeps on winning. As he crosses the red-hot coals of America's racist society, Mr. Belafonte just keeps jumping from one preset trap after another, until he has simply grown too big, too powerful and too rich for the traps to work against him any longer. And while he never completely crosses the hot desert sands (no one ever does in this society), he does repeatedly subdue American racism by "outfoxing" and "end-running" it.

Born on the cusp of the Black Renaissance - a dirt-poor immigrant with meager talents, and from a broken family - Harry Belafonte caught the last seat on the train that contained the heroes of that era. Not only did he rub shoulders with the likes of Paul Robeson and WEB Du Bois, but also they were among his mentors, teachers and friends. So too were a host of other Hollywood types that later gained great fame (or infamy) as more than just plastic personalities. They included Marlon Brando and Shelly Winters, among many others.

In a nutshell the reader will discover that the arc of this story is about how a dyslexic insecure Island boy, who had punched out one of his eyes at the age of eight, came to New York and managed to retain his dignity and avoid being neutered on his way to becoming a successful black entertainer. It is thus not just a story about overcoming the normal built-in racist adversity, but also about how one man could become inventive and resourceful enough to affect the system of American oppression so that those coming along afterwards might also have a chance at success.

The Hallmark of the "Harry Belafonte way," was to be uncompromising about his dignity, his craft and the politics of his survival. Mr. Belafonte was no ones fool, he too saw that the easy backdoor was wide open for any blacks who wanted success by first depositing their dignity and their nuts at the door. He understood all too well the politics of America's quid pro quo to its black performers: become an Uncle Tom or an Aunt Jemima, that is, hand over your dignity and your nuts at the door and we give you 30 pieces of silver, and you are then allowed to live like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby and Louis Armstrong, ever after.

Mr. Belafonte chose not to take up the nation's standing quid pro quo offer. Instead he went hungry, went into analysis, and lived on the edge for many harrowing years before he was able to carve out a new path to his own existence, one that allowed him to survive keeping his mind and body (that is his dignity and his nuts) intact. Was it easy? No. If he had it to do over again, would he do it the same way? Yes. Did many of his friends (like Sydney Poitier, Sammy Davis Jr., Louis Armstrong, Bill Cosby, and Oprah Winfry) take the open door? Yes. Were they rewarded for taking the easier route? Yes. Does he begrudge them for doing so? No.

It is all here in this story and much more, including Mr. Belafonte's close relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how he was able to deal with his own personal demons that at one time or another included gambling, and womanizing. Next to Andre Agassi's autobiography, "Open," this is the one to buy. Five stars
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Amazing life of a talented and flawed artist 30 Dec 2011
By Sheldon Laskin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Harry Belafonte's My Song is a fascinating account of a profoundly meaningful life. A brilliant artist, a committed social activist and an admittedly troubled, flawed personality, Belafonte was an active participant in most of the struggles for civil rights and social democracy in the 20th century. A close adviser to Martin Luther King, Jr., so many seminal meetings during the civil rights movement took place in the Belafonte Upper West Side apartment that Clarence Jones, King's longtime lawyer, only half jokingly suggested it be designated a national historical landmark when Belafonte and his ex wife decided to sell it in 2008. Written in a fast-paced style with little or no literary embellishments, My Song is chock full of inside details of the Movement. I learned for the first time that Nelson Rockefeller had the vault of the Chase Manhattan Bank opened late at night to provide Clarence Jones with bail money for King when he was arrested in Albany, GA and then immediately forgave payment of the promissory note he had Jones sign to make it look like a loan. Amazingly, Robert Kennedy also personally contributed to the bail fund, notwithstanding the political risk of an Attorney General of the United States (and brother to the President) doing so. I have only two criticisms of this otherwise wonderful and important book. First, Belafonte's huge ego -- which he freely acknowledges -- sometimes had me wondering whether he was quite as important to the Movement as he repeatedly says. A non-political example well illustrates Belafonte's outsize ego. After noting that Bob Dylan's first recording was as a last-minute substitute harmonica player on Belafonte's Midnight Special album, Belafonte quotes verbatim several paragraphs of Dylan's memoir praising Harry Belafonte. Also, while it is well known that Belafonte's relationship with Coretta Scott King and the King family has often been strained (he was disinvited to speak at her funeral), Belafonte's comments on the King marriage are in very poor taste and inappropriate. It isn't Belafonte's role to comment on the dynamics of someone else's marriage particularly when, in doing so, Belafonte seems to be betraying the confidences of a deceased Martin to diminish the reputation of a deceased Coretta. Finally, while it didn't bother me, readers should be aware that this book is a political memoir of a man who happened to also be a singer and an actor, not a detalied account of his artistic career. All in all, though, the book is an important addition to the history of the civil rights movement in America and well worth reading.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
More than just Harry 17 Nov 2011
By C. Merser - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Here is the thing. I read it because I sort of 'had' thing, and when I saw how long it was, I was a little put off. BUT, here is the thing. It's so much more than about Harry. It's about a time in history in which I was alive and on the planet but clearly clueless as to what was happening big picture around me. It is brought alive through the book and who knew Harry was such a fab personage? I recommend it HIGHLY...
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Good but borders on oversharing 25 Nov 2011
By MarvelousMarla - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've always had a vague idea about Harry Belafonte's social activism, but I had no idea that he'd given so much of his time, influence and resources to the Civil Rights Movement. In seeing him promote this book, I grew curious about this part of his life.

The stories are amazing, and it was interesting to read about his relationships with Dr. King and others, but I felt that some of the stories that he repeated were probably best left unshared. In particular, the things that are written on page 298 about Dr. King and his wife seem rather harsh from someone who was close friends with the couple. And then later on he speaks on what happens after Mrs. King's death when he was dis-invited to the funeral.

Some of things in this book border on score-settling, which is certainly Mr. Belafonte's prerogative, but it is not what I expected to see.

Nonetheless, Mr. Belafonte is a fascinating person with firmly-held beliefs that he does not sugarcoat or compromise. That is rare, and there is a lot that can be learned from his remarkable life story.
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