tv Tavis Smiley PBS March 2, 2017 6:30am-7:01am PST
. good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. tonight we celebrate harry belafonte's 90th birthday, award-winning singer actor and author has been a guest on this program numerous times over our 14 seasons. we will revisit some of those memorable appear uns as well as celebrate his life as an artist and activist. we are glad you joined us. our special birthday celebration it harry belafonte in just a moment. ♪ ♪ ♪
>> with contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you, thank you. harry belafonte is a cultural icon whose ground breaking elements solidified his place in music history. last weekend, his music was released called the legacy of har harry belafonte when colors come together. mr. b was the artist of first race or jegender to sell 1 milln records. he has a lifetime achievement award, emmy and tony. in 2014 he received honorary oscar making him one of an elite
group of performers who achieved egot status, emmy, grammy os tar tony. he has his first appearance thon program in 2004. i asked the then 76-year-old about his continued commitment to advocacy and to coming to this nation as the son of immigrants. >> not bad. >> a little overly active. but really doing things that i have great interest in. a great sense of urgency about the time in which we live. i figure by the time i reach a three quarter of a century mark i have long since either been dead and began or lying on a beach somewhere just being nostalgic. but if fact there is so much to be done that i find that certain luxuries are not affordable.
>> we have talked a number of times over the years, i didn't take the chance to ask you how your coming to this nation as the son of immigrants shapes or shades your world view and your opinion of what america is or what she aught to be. how much of that is determined or is part and parcel of your having come to this country as son of immigrants? >> great deal of it. especially since i've come to know through nelson mandela, eleanor king and others in my life that it is not an isolated island. united states of america is part after planet and everything that happens on this planet has serious ramifications for our vital interests as well as external interests. as an immigrant i'm no different than those who know life through the ice and prisms of their immigrant experience. whether the jews or irish who couple here.
during the irish rebellion. during the potato famine. rush russians who come here. whoever comes bring a history of a story about why america means not only so much to us but why you would like to shape america to be the promise we were told america holds for all of us. >> mr. b's close and abiding friendship with dr. martin luther king, jr. was at the forefront after special week of shows in it 008 from memphis commemorating the 40th anniversary of king's death. during next clip he shared a rare glimpse of king's humor with a story about that amazing week in february 1968 when johnny carson handed "the tonight show" over to mr. b. i also asked him to take my back it where, when and how he first met dr. king. >> all right so you're kiting there on the t"the tonight show
and only mr. b could get dr. king to sit down for a conversation on the tonight show. king flies from atlanta to new york. he is running late. trying to get to the show. which is live. he lands at the airport. and i'll let mr. b pick the story up and take it through to the joke that he told opening the show. you take it and run. you remember this, don't you? >> yes, i do. >> tell this story. i love it. >> by the time he went on air, dr. king had not arrived so we made a quick adjustment to fill his slot. and how you cover the slot. about a quarter of the way into the show, dr. king showed up. so we could go back to plan a. and really came on air. he didn't give me a chance to do very much to hug him and greet him and he sat and he said, i must beg your forgiveness for the cause of anxiety here. he said, but i've had my own experience. i left atlanta late. the plane was late. i got to the airport. i got into a cab driver that
recognized me. he said what are you doing in town. i said i'm late with this broadcast with you. all he had to hear is that i was late. that man hit the gas and took me on the road even that is the most nervous experience of my life. i was zooming in and out of traffic. i had to tip him on the shoulder and said sir if you don't mind i appreciate your sense of urgency but i would rather be known as martin luther king, jr. late than the late martin luther king, jr. [ laughter ] >> told brilliantly. king tells that story on the tonight show and the joke killed. and it gave people a rare glimpse at man that you knew up close who was actually rather funny. >> it gave me the opportunity to lead into a question. it was rebroadcast several times. i asked him, in fact, how did he feel about death. and did he fear for his life.
and he took that moment to reveal for the first time before a large audience that he had come to peace with the idea of death. >> dr. king, do you fear for your life? >> i'm more concerned about doing a good job, doing something for humanity and what i consider the will of god than about longevity. and ultimately, it isn't so important how long you live, the important thing is how well you live. >> take me back to when, where and how you first met martin king. >> i was in new york and i got a call. this is in the early 1950s. mid 1950s. and when i answered the phone, he asked for me and i said i was speaking. and he said, this is martin
luther king, jr. and i don't know if you know me. but welcome to the chaplin. i said, well, i think there is hardly any black person in america that doesn't know you. just at the dawning of the montgomery campaign. but he was coming to new york to speak to the community. and he is doing it at the baptist church. and clayton powell was alive then and he was pastor. he said before or of that if we could meet just a few minutes, i would appreciate it. so i went to hear him speak and i was quite taken and we went downstairs into the basement of the church and what was supposed to have been just about 20 minutes was about four hours. and in that time, i had heard a
voice and was privileged to enter into a mind that held great substance and deeply attracted me and i left that room knowing i would be in his service as long as service was required. like many, i thought that journey would be fairly brief. i had no idea that the black woman sitting on the bus and country preacher emerging from the ranks from a little unknown place would have had such universal consequence. the entire time of the rest of his life is hard lay day he didn't speak and have some business to take care of. >> and take care of business they did. bellefonty emerged at the strong voice for the vifl rights
movement, was financial backing and participated in numerous rally answers proteses and prot including the mash much on washington but supervisors just part and parcel for the human rights. he organized we are the world, anthem for family relief in africa that raised millions of dollars and became an international hit with featured vocals by line al richie, michael jackson, ray charles, diana ross and the boss, bruce springsteen. mr. b was also involved in anti-apa anti-apa anti-apart tied movement and shared what made their relationship different from others in the struggle and expressed the special role he played in the first visit to the u.s. what makes mandela so uniquely different? >> i think of all the people that i had been privileged to serve, nelson mandela was the one that i least suspected that
i had ever come to meet personally. or to know. i tried several times while he was incarcerated to be given the privilege of visiting him. but the apartheid system would not allow that. i started corresponding with mr. mandela while he was in prison. i got to be aware of him by my mentor and the man i most admired and still do, paul rosen. paul rosen is very close to king matuli who was a leader against the apartheid system in the early days of its presence. in south africa. and he was the first black man to ever receive the nobel prize. looking at south africa from that prison i became to become more aware of what the african national, anc was doing, and what its leadership was aspiring
to, to make decisions that would help us support the struggle that the people of south africa were experiencing and resisting apartheid. >> it is one thing to work along side dr. king as you did so courageously, but with regard to mandela, for 27 years, certainly he was behind bars. what do you recall more principally about working along side one of the leaders of this movement to end apartheid when he himself for most of that time was behind bars? >> it was a very touching and a very exciting and rewarding experience. often i went to vice mant by the name of oliver who had been selected by the leadership of the anc to lead the anc during mandela's incarceration. so for all intents and purpose, he was the head of the anc, was the one that was given the
authority to give instructions to the rest of us, who are in the service of that cause. so then i often heard mandela's voice very clearly through the things that oliver was doing. it became apparent that we were getting closer and closer to the time when mandela would be living freed. many of us looked that with a great sense of hope that this would be the case. and i never thought i would live long enough to see mandela released from prison but he was released. i was then instructed by the anc and to help and prepare for the first visit to the united states. and in that capacity, i was able to not only correspond with will winnie mandela and monandela himself through mail, and also set up the kind of environment
that would be most rewarding for his visit to the united states. he came here and i was charged with the responsibility of leading off those made upon us for his visit here. >> when his memoir, "my song" was published in 2011 he joined us for a conversation. in that conversation we discussed how poverty describes him and the price he pays for being a man of conscious, unique voice and list approach to music. >> i was born into poverty and as i said in the book, it was my expectation that i would always know it. what i've opted to do is that since i have escaped the harshness of the economic bounds of poverty, i have stayed very connected to its spiritual. because everything that i need to talk about, everything that i
need to reveal, to continually engage and bounce off resides in poverty. i'm very familiar with it. i find it easy to be with whether i'm in america, africa or asia. wherever i go and find the environment of those who are living in poverty and resisting poverty is a place which i have great comfort. in that environment i find great inspiration. many of the men and women who i admire as artists, songs they write, songs they sing, inspires moments to overcome oppression. i don't find that on wall street. i don't find that in beverly hills. i don't find that in places where opportunity resides unbridled. and i think the real creative energy and juice is in where
people are caught and the economic abyss. i am who i am despite the obstacles that we have all faced based upon race and based upon social and spiritual humiliation. i am not here because i'm inspired by what great presidents have not done or done as the case may be. i'm here because i come from a sense of struggle. a sense of using the instruments that were given to me. to manipulate the environment for which i found myself and joined up with those who are equally as skillful at manipulating that environment as was i. i think america offers a dream that cannot be fulfilled as easily anywhere else in the world and could be fulfilled here. great men, dr. dubois or dr.
king or others merely saw an opportunity that did not reside quite the same elsewhere. opportunity for black people in africa were really quite different on to the colonial oppression. that africans experienced. just like it was quite difference for those who grew up in the caribbean. oppression was for all of us. styles of oppression gave us the opportunity to see the world and dimensions we didn't quite see growing up in any one place. i think that being born in america and growing up exclusively within the american boundaries of race and race oppression, is a very different experience for those of white house grew up under the boun kris of race and race experience. and in the caribbean. or from those who grew up in africa. if i can change america and change american foreign policy, and help get people into office who bring a moral mission as well as spiritual insight into
what they should be doing politically, we sit in the place where the opportunity for change resides in its most powerful sense. the dynamic of what we can do to make change is unlike the dynamic than any place else can boast on. >> pushing america in that way to your mind makes you a greater patriot or in the minds of others and integrate? >> i don't dwell too much on the minds of others. >> and there's the harry belafonte i know. >> i went about my life. approaching music. not from the point of view of a singer. but from point of view of an actor. that's how i first started to sing. i ahad a part. it was a guy singing. when i found out how to approach from the acting point of view and diit, it was resounding, the rewards that came from that
practice. everything i went after in my musical career was based upon how i approached the song as an actor, not because of the power of my musical instrument. however, having said that, what i delighted in is the fact so many people found what i did to be so attractive and in ways to know more about the, as a performer, would require that you see me in the theater as opposed to hearing me on record. and i think that what you see in the theater is an arc of the experience that revealed musically that really talks about my life, about the songs that have chosen to sing, the protest songs, songs that have embraced other race, songs in many languages that i sing, not unlike the ropes and put on me because he sang 22 languages. wrote and read them aep sang in them. i saw the appreciation from a global audience because he did that. i did the same thing when i went to japan, i sang in japanese.
or i went to greece, i sang in greek. when when i went to spain i sang in spanish. i couldn't say it very well but i could sing it beautifully. that is the uniqueness of who i was in the way and perform. >> as a consequence that servees a political end which is to make me completely independent of the economics and the way in which life was designed for the artist. all deeply dependent on how wall street defines us. and banks define us and commodity defines us and what industry says for the general motors likes us or kelloggs corn flakes likes us, you are equated as an artist based upon the likes and dislikes of those powers. how you get around that? so i went directly to people. and maintained a people relationship so no matter what they did to me, black list, i couldn't get on the air or i
couldn't find a movie, i would go to paris to see it fulfilled. go to hong kong, theaters were filled. good go to vegas and theaters were filled. i was touched by the instruments of denial that were in the powers, and the hands of the lead. so if a sponsor didn't like me, i couldn't care less. what you are asking me to do is give up what i believe and what i believe to be not only morally correct but i think spiritually most disired. and to give that to be anointed by your product, there is no bargain here. so i'll just be who i am. voice or no voice. >> mr. b used his voice at home and around the world for more than half a century. always courageously speaking truth. as an artist his mandate is to show life not as it is but as it should be.
and as a citizen of this country, his mandate is to bring criticism and dissension to the table. so that another point of view might be heard. in the political climate we now find ourselves, i'm reminded of mr. b's insightful words on this program just one day after barack obama was elected president. >> well, i think of all the people in this country who earned the right to celebrate, none have earned that right more than the african-american community. however, that is an stand-alone community. and i think that we have been here before. whoe slavery was overthrown, gre great civil war and post civil war period and elected black officials to congress and senate, not too long of that that we introduced a hundred years of apartheid. the cruellest and most oppressi oppressive sink irrigation system known to the world was
lingered and at other occasions at the end of the second world war when we came back with a great sense of hope for america's future and defeating fascism and white supremacy should have no place in the mix of civil society. we went into this period of mca mccarthyism and pain an oppression that evoked need for dr. king who came to service. though we have earned the right to celebrate and we should celebrate, i think we must also understand we've been here before. and at a time when we are most required to be vigilant, most required to stay the course. because this thing that we have just achieved could be very -- could be easily taken way from us. >> mr. larry bellefonty's words almost ten years ago remind us of importance of staying active. whether porti
whether supporting next leaders, or serving as honorary co-chair with the march on washington with gloria steinem. mr. b continues to lead the charge by example. so tonight we celebrate not only one of america's greatest entertainers but one of the most profoundly influential activists and american hero. happy birthday, mr. b. here is to many more years of art and defiance. good night from lax los angeles. thanks for watching. as always, keep the faith. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪
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