Harry Belafonte, the revered singer, songwriter, and actor is continuing his social activism through a special album compilation called “When Colors Come Together…The Legacy of Harry Belafonte.”
Released February 24 through Legacy Recordings, the catalog division of Sony Music Entertainment, the project features many of Belafonte’s biggest hits and most popular classics.
“Harry did a mixtape,” David Belafonte, the elder Belafonte’s son, told NBCBLK. “We asked him, ‘if you had the opportunity to introduce your music to another audience, what songs would you choose?'”
Executive produced by David, they felt it imperative that a younger demographic know Belafonte, his tastes and his politics. As he reflected over his father’s work and career, David said social change has been at the core.
“The mission was to have Harry pick a body of work that would give a 40,000-foot view of his wide-ranging catalogue in term of style and in terms of message,” he said. “For me, if I had to really pick one of the many fights that Harry has fought, the issue of race is the one that stands out for me. Race is one of the many things that seems to have plagued us for as long as anyone can imagine.”
The project, which includes 18 of the elder Belafonte’s biggest songs from the 1956 hit “Banana Boat (Day-O)” to “Turn the World Around” released in 1977, also features a newly recorded song, “When Colors Come Together (Our Island In The Sun).” The new inclusion is produced by David and performed by a multicultural children’s choir.
The track is reimagined from the soundtrack of one of Belafonte’s most racially focused film, “Island in the Sun” (1957). The children selected to sing on the track were handpicked, said David.
“They were cast specifically,” he said. “Having this song performed by a younger generation for a younger audience was ideal. We had to find kids that were gifted in the way of song. Our dream, ideally, is to develop a ‘When Colors Come Together Tabernacle Choir.’”
Belafonte has spent his career fighting for social justice and equality. Early on he was one of the most visible proponents of the Civil Rights Movement. He is known for having been a confidant to Martin Luther King, Jr. and his family, providing for them financially for years.
As a guest host for the Tonight Show, he used the platform to mix entertainment with politics in a way that made producers anxious and uncomfortable, but the move introduced watchers to Black life in a way that had never been done before.
At 90 (his birthday was March 1), he has not slowed down, said his son. While there have been reports that he is not as physically capable as he has been in the past – due mostly to a stroke, David said his father’s limitations are mostly a gear shift of choice.
His father is as busy as he has ever been, David said. In addition to the compilation project, Belafonte is also staying connected and making an impact through Sankofa.org. The social justice organization’s mission is to recruit and assist artists in becoming social activists. Belafonte founded the organization in 2013 and is co-directed by his daughter, Gina Belafonte — and Jesse Williams is on the board.
David described the experience of working on “When Colors Come Together…” with his father as deeply familiar.
“It has been awhile since he and I were able to work together. The nuts and bolts of putting a project like this together has been my favorite part, especially working on something so close to the family legacy, moving the family legacy forward,” he said. “What a wonderful opportunity to be able to tie it together with some purpose, with the intent of connecting with the next generation. I hope people really get to engage it.”