Joining the Dramatic Workshop of the New School of Social Research under the tutelage of renowned German director Erwin Piscator, Belafonte attended class with fellow future stars like Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur, Rod Steiger and Tony Curtis. He immersed himself in the world of theatre and found “a place of social truth and profound influence,” compelling him to make a commitment to use art as a source of inspiration to others, as well as an instrument of resistance and rebellion and a counter to racism.
Paralleling his pursuit of acting, an interest in jazz spurred him to develop a relationship with pioneers of the art form. In his first professional appearance, he performed with jazz titans Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Tommy Potter and Al Haig as his “back-up band.”
His first Broadway appearance, in “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac,” earned him a Tony Award. As the first black producer in television, he won an Emmy® for his network production of “An Evening with Belafonte,” directed by Norman Jewison. At the dawning of his film career, “Carmen Jones” took top critical honors, garnering two Oscar® nominations and winning the Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture (Musical/Comedy).
In SING YOUR SONG, Belafonte observes that while building a career, raising a family and enjoying his successes, there were always the larger concerns for freedom, justice, equality and human dignity. Since childhood, his mother impressed upon him that he should never awaken in a day when there wasn’t something on his agenda that would help set the course for the undermining of injustice. That larger concern at the center of his life and work connected him deeply with his mentor Robeson, a renaissance man of immense talents who sacrificed everything in the fight for freedom and justice.
Belafonte’s compassion and ardor also drew him to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who once said of his friend, “Belafonte’s global popularity and his commitment to our cause is a key ingredient to the global struggle for freedom and a powerful tactical weapon in the civil rights movement here in America. We are blessed by his courage and moral integrity.”
Like Robeson before him, Belafonte has paid a price for his activism. Rather than compromise with bigotry and prejudice, he walked away from the money and exposure that compromise would have afforded him, for example, when sponsors of the groundbreaking and hugely popular television specials “Tonight with Belafonte” (1959) and “Belafonte, New York 19” (1960) balked at his racially integrated casts. Similar battles with Hollywood film producers over content and race led him to turn down other lucrative offers.
SING YOUR SONG was presented at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and the 2011 Berlin Film Festival, as well as the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.
HBO Documentary Films and Michael Cohl present a Belafonte Enterprises and S2BN Entertainment Production in association with Julius R. Nasso Productions; a film by Susanne Rostock; produced by Michael Cohl, Gina Belafonte, Jim Brown, William Eigen and Julius R. Nasso; co-produced by Sage Scully; edited by Susanne Rostock and Jason L. Pollard; consultant, Karol Martesko-Fenster; music composed by Hahn Rowe.