NBC's Curry to Left-Wing Activist and Singer Belafonte: 'Thank You For Your Life'
Updated [12:01 ET]: Full transcript added
At the end of a fawning interview with far left activist and singer Harry Belafonte on Thursday's NBC Today, co-host Ann Curry asked about his litany of controversial comments over the years and if he ever wished he kept his "mouth shut." Belafonte claimed "many Americans shared" his radical views and that: "I handled it with dignity and a certain kind of preciseness that I've not regretted." [Audio available here]
Curry responded by wrapping up the segment and touting Belafonte's autobiography, My Song: "Well, you certainly do that in this book and what's really sweet at the end is you do talk about our best times still lying ahead and from all you've been through that is such a hopeful thing to hear from your perspective. Harry Belafonte, thank you for your life, thank you for your book and thank you for being here this morning....What a great honor." [View video after the jump]
Earlier, as Curry teased the upcoming interview, she could barely contain her glee: "Also coming up, I'm very excited because in our studio this morning, Harry Belafonte, the man who gave us "Day-O." I mean, who does not remember that iconic song? Great actor."
In a brief set-up piece prior to the interview, she declared: "Harry Belafonte is an American legend and not just because of his good looks, his acting talents, or his beautiful singing voice....[he] was much more than an entertainer. He wanted to help change the world. A close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King's, he was a key leader in the civil rights movement..." The headline on screen throughout the segment read: "Being Belafonte; Legend's Journey From Entertainer to Activist."
Curry briefly noted Belafonte's history of controversy: "He's ruffled a lot of feathers along the way as well, with his choice of friends and foes. Once calling President George W. Bush, quote, 'the greatest terrorist in the world.'" When she mentioned "his choice of friends," photos appeared on screen of Belafonte spending time with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.
As much as Curry touted Belafonte's activism in the civil rights movement, she never bothered to point out the obvious hypocrisy of him then becoming a friend of authoritarian regimes in other countries.
While Curry had mentioned he called President Bush a "terrorist," she avoided listing his offensive comments about prominent black Republicans, though she did list them: "You've criticized President Bush, the second one, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and most recently Herman Cain."
In 2002, Belafonte referred to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell as a "house slave" and then-National Security Advisor as someone who had turned her back on black people.
Most recently, in an interview with Joy Behar, Belfonte said of Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain: "[He] is just the latest incarnation of what is totally false to the needs of our community, and the needs of our nation. I think he’s a bad apple, and people should look at his whole card. He’s not what he says he is....I don’t think prayers were created for him." He also again suggested people like Powell and Rice were not real representations of the black community.
Here is a full transcript of Curry's October 13 interview with Belafonte:
8:30AM ET TEASE:
ANN CURRY: Also coming up, I'm very excited because in our studio this morning, Harry Belafonte, the man who gave us "Day-O." I mean, who does not remember that iconic song? Great actor. Also a close friend of Martin Luther King. He was a major leader in the civil rights movement so he's got a lot to say in a new book that's just come out.
NATALIE MORALES: Alright, look forward to that.
8:46AM ET SEGMENT:
CURRY: Harry Belafonte is an American legend and not just because of his good looks, his acting talents, or his beautiful singing voice.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Being Belafonte; Legend's Journey From Entertainer to Activist]
HARRY BELAFONTE [SINGING]: Day-O!
CURRY: Always a crowd pleaser. Harry Belafonte has been making beautiful music for more than half a century. The child who grew up in New York and Jamaica wound up bringing the sounds of the islands to a worldwide audience, churning out hit after hit after hit. He was a movie heart throb as well, breaking color barriers along the way.
[CLIP OF BELAFONTE IN MOVIE "ISLAND IN THE SUN"]
CURRY: But Harry Belafonte was much more than an entertainer. He wanted to help change the world. A close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King's, he was a key leader in the civil rights movement and also the man who first helped bring together the stars for famine relief with "We Are the World."
[CLIP OF "WE ARE THE WORLD"]
CURRY: But he's ruffled a lot of feathers along the way as well, with his choice of friends and foes.
[PHOTOS OF BELAFONTE WITH FIDEL CASTRO AND HUGO CHAVEZ]
Once calling President George W. Bush, quote, "the greatest terrorist in the world." Now in a new HBO documentary about his tumultuous life, called Sing Your Song, Harry Belafonte remembers when his hero, the late singer and controversial activist Paul Robeson, came to see him on stage.
HARRY BELFONTE: At the end of my performance he came back stage and simply said, "Get them to sing your song and they'll want to know who you are."
CURRY: And now at the age of 84, Harry Belafonte is now out with a new memoir called appropriately enough, My Song. Harry Belafonte, what a pleasure.
BELAFONTE: It's a delight to be here.
CURRY: Oh, my Lord. Now after all of these years of resisting it, what made you finally sit down and write your memoirs?
BELAFONTE: Actually it was the passing of a friend, Marlon Brando and I were very close. We had gone to school together as young – as a matter of fact, adult teenagers. And through the years we developed this synergy and this way of life and he had done a great deal with his life, working with indigenous people in the black community on all of the things, the problems we faced. And when he passed away, I not only lost a great friend but America lost a great icon, not only a great actor but somebody who was deeply committed to helping those who were in need.
And when he passed, I realized he left without ever telling his story. I thought that I should make a film to try to capture the time in which we lived and then automatically go to the book and that's how it all emerged.
CURRY: You know, and so in telling your story you just mentioned Marlon Brando. And I could tick off a lot of very famous names that are connected to your story. And in fact, I will. You were on the cover of Life magazine with Sammy Davis and also Sidney Portier. You've mingled with the likes of Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, as we just heard, Muhammad Ali, Lena Horne, Eleanor Roosevelt, President John and Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King. What is your favorite memory of the good Dr. King?
BELAFONTE: Beyond being deeply moved by his intellectual capacity, it was his humility and the kind of humanity he revealed whenever he walked into a campaign and was deeply concerned about whether or not he was doing the right thing. Not morally, but tactically, because always there was the threat that people might get hurt, somebody might be taken out, and he always – he felt a great sense of responsibility and burden for making decisions that would put people in harm's way. And those of us who sat in his circle had to continually reinforce the sense that what he was doing was not only morally correct but socially necessary. And he took some comfort in the fact that we encouraged him.
CURRY: You encouraged him and becoming a civil rights leader yourself. And you write in your book, "Why had I jeopardized, in some ways damaged, a career trajectory that had made me at 30 the world's first so-called black matinee idol?" How do you answer your own question?
BELAFONTE: I would say a lot of it is good fortune, the coincidences. I cannot ever remember sitting down and charting the course of my life. I was lucky enough to be able to see opportunity and seize it every time it knocked at my door. That led me to meet some remarkable people who sought my services, especially when I began to profile as an artist. Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, and others. And each time they sought me out and I listened to their requests, I found that the journey that they asked me to be on was really quite worthy.
CURRY: Your mother said something to you when you were very young that was powerful. She said something about, "When you grow up, never go to bed at night knowing that there was something you could have done during the day to strike a blow against injustice and you didn't do it."
BELAFONTE: That was my compass. Her dignity, her moral sensitivity, and sense of social purpose. She was an immigrant woman here in America. Came here for the American dream and found that the dream was quite elusive. And she struggled and she was, for all intents and purposes, a single parent. I admired the struggle that she made and I saw in her the things that I should be, and especially with her guidance and counsel.
CURRY: But you did – you do say in this book there were times when you asked yourself if it was worth it, whether risking so much for yourself, risking all the adulation you had at that difficult time for African-Americans in this country, to do this work, to try to create freedoms for people who did not have it, you did ask yourself, you have asked yourself since, was it worth it?
BELAFONTE: Yes. The answer is that I truly have no choice. It's beyond – it's beyond my own capacity to accept it or reject it. It's a thing that I just must do. And each time injustice passes by my purview, I get engaged, whether it's here or Africa or somewhere else in the world. It's just the nature of the way things are.
CURRY: In fact, you've spent some time criticizing some people. We just talked about that in the piece. You've criticized President Bush, the second one, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and most recently Herman Cain. And you've gotten into a lot of trouble for some of the things you've said. I mean, do you ever wish, I mean, with all due respect, you keep your mouth shut?
BELAFONTE: I knew what I was doing. How best to capture the press than to do something that they've never heard before? And there it was. I got the platform and opportunity to articulate a point of view that many Americans shared, and people in the world, and I think I handled it with dignity and a certain kind of preciseness that I've not regretted.
CURRY: Well, you certainly do that in this book and what's really sweet at the end is you do talk about our best times still lying ahead and from all you've been through that is such a hopeful thing to hear from your perspective. Harry Belafonte, thank you for your life, thank you for your book and thank you for being here this morning.
BELAFONTE: Thank you very much.
CURRY: What a great honor. Thank so much.
BELAFONTE: My pleasure.
CURRY: And again, the book is called My Song. The HBO documentary sing – called Sing Your Song premieres on Monday night.