“King of Calypso” and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte will be inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame on Thursday, April 11, the culmination of an all-day film festival of his work at the historic Carver Theatre. The event will precede the Alabama Student Jazz Band Festival on Friday and Saturday.
Though he is likely the most successful Calypso musician in history, Belafonte’s career saw success in a number of different genres, most of which are indicative of his deeply felt love for folk music in the Caribbean and the South. Best known for upbeat songs like “Matilda” and the ubiquitous “Banana Boat Song” – also known as the “Day-O” song – Belafonte first performed with the not-too-shabby backing band of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Max Roach.
In addition to his success as a musician, Belafonte has also starred in several films, including two with the great Sidney Poitier – one of which, the comedy Uptown Saturday Night, will be shown at the film festival. His films have varied between musicals like Carmen Jones, dramas like Island in the Sun, and politically charged sci-fi like The World, the Flesh and the Devil.
Belafonte’s vocal frustrations with the limited roles available to him as a black man were only a small part of his involvement with the Civil Rights Movement and with social justice issues abroad. He paid Martin Luther King’s bail from the Birmingham Jail in 1963, supported King financially during the ’60s, bankrolled SNCC and helped organize the March on Washington – contributions routinely forgotten from the man who sang “Day-O” so serenely.
Belafonte will be present for his induction on Thursday after a screening of the documentary Sing Your Song, which focuses on Belafonte’s role in Civil Rights, and a Q&A/panel discussion.
The Alabama Student Jazz Band Festival to follow on Friday and Saturday will showcase talent from junior high kids to college students. It’s a fitting representation of three of the most important and noble parts of Birmingham’s jazz culture: its mentoring aspect, its respect for youth and its inclusiveness.
When asked if the rule for jazz musicians in Birmingham is still, “If you can play, you can play,” Executive Director of the Jazz Hall of Fame Dr. Leah Tucker responded with a resounding yes.
“It crosses all barriers. We have the young and the old, the rich and the poor, white, black, all races,” she told Weld in an interview. “We call it a gumbo — these kids come together, wherever they come from, then perform together like professionals.”
The historic Carver Theatre is located at 1631 4th Avenue N. The Harry Belafonte Film Festival will start at 9 a.m. on Thursday, April 11 at the Carver Theatre, culminating in a reception at 6:30 p.m., a showing of Sing Your Song, and Belafonte’s induction. The day pass is $25.
The Alabama Student Jazz Band Festival will take place on the following Friday and Saturday. For a full schedule of bands and times for the festival, click here.