I have been a devoted fan of Harry Belafonte ever since first hearing Hold 'Em Joe and I 'm Just A Country Boy on AM radio in Port Arthur, Ontario, in the summer of 1954. Apart from being swept away by his renderings of these songs, I was amazed that any artist could be so totally at home delivering such diverse material (a calypso romp on one hand and a tender ballad on the other). I subsequently caught him in concert, with special guest Miriam Makeba, at Toronto's O'Keefe Centre in November of 1960. Over the next four decades I faithfully attended live performances by Belafonte and Friends whenever they appeared at Montreal's Place des Arts.
The initial attempt to catalogue my Belafonte record collection goes back to 1961. At the time it took in all tracks issued to that date, with the exception of 4 of the 8 jazz-pop sides recorded for Capitol in 1949. Thanks to a very caring salesperson at Toronto's Promenade Records, it included the 2 sides from the Roost sessions of the same year. This basic listing was expanded in 1993 to incorporate the many releases made over the intervening years. Then in the fall of 1998 I decided to formalize this document with the intention of making it available to others who share my admiration for Mr. Belafonte and his artistry. As far as I could determine, no one had previously undertaken such a project.
It wasn't long before the text had taken shape, but a few anomalies needed to be addressed. Consequently I approached a friend who was on the Internet and asked whether she would attempt to access the RCA archives (in retrospect a somewhat naive request). Although this mission was unsuccessful, the report came back that she had uncovered the most amazing Belafonte site created by a Mr. Åke Holm in Sweden. Good news, I wasn't alone after all! The next order of business was a visit to Åke's home-page where I discovered a veritable archive of Belafonte recordings. A link carried me over to a Japanese site where Haruo Funatsu had assembled an equally impressive tribute.
Needless to say, my first reaction was to abandon all plans to take my project to the Net, seeing as Åke and Haruo had so thoroughly documented the subject. However, following some reflection, I became convinced that there was a complementary perspective to bring to the Belafonte Story. Hence the retrospective which follows. Herein, attention has primarily been focused on the huge portfolio of recordings that Mr. Belafonte has generated over the first 50 years of his extraordinary career. Throughout, the attempt has been to show the precise manner in which the individual tracks ( 525 in all, excluding video soundtracks ) were first introduced to listeners, while essentially ignoring re-releases, compilations and bootlegs.
My thanks to those who encouraged the undertaking of this effort, as well as to others who assisted along the way. Of course the greatest debt of gratitude is reserved for Mr. Belafonte himself, whose work is the subject of this study. He has been, and continues to be, a great inspiration to us all, through his music, films, social activism, and humanitarian work.
So you are curious about those anomalies? More on that topic later. What I will say here is that I did attempt to make contact with Belafonte Enterprises and Harbel Productions but my letters kept coming back with the notation, return-to-sender. Then, just as I was about to give up in despair, I had a chance encounter on the Web with another big fan and most remarkable person in Jan Ejlertsen from Denmark. Jan provided answers to my immediate questions and has remained my guiding light and collaborator on all matters pertaining to the early years.
Since first stepping before a microphone in 1949, Harry Belafonte has associated himself with an impressive array of musicians and performers whose talents are recognized the world over. Though little mention is made of these artists in the present retrospective there is no intention to ignore, or in any way downplay, their individual contributions to his enormous success. In fact they are an integral part of the Belafonte experience.
Update, February 2001 :-
Much has transpired relative to the availability of information on the artist, since laying the groundwork for this project two years ago. The most significant development has been the emergence of Judy Paul's Site of Sites, a tender and fitting showcasing of Mr. Belafonte, elder statesman, man of wisdom and role model to generations of young people.
Meanwhile circumstances unfortunately delayed the early publication of the present work. Here's hoping that it still has value and that it succeeds in its goal to demystify the historical record surrounding Harry Belafonte's audio tracks.
Cette première aventure sur la scène Internet est dédiée à mon épouse, Monique.