Bill Banfield is a professor of Africana Studies/ Music and Society and director of the Center for Africana Studies and programs at Berklee. An award-winning composer, jazz guitarist /recording artist, and public radio show host, he has authored five books for Scarecrow Press on music, arts, cultural criticism, and history.
During the week of March, 3, 2014, Berklee engaged itself in a series of concerts, talk-ins, and film showings on the life and work of Harry Belafonte. The culminating celebration was a night of his music performed expertly by an incredible array of Berklee’s best, and then the awarding of an honorary doctorate to Belafonte. My purpose here is to raise up a few ideas: sustaining themes that connect us to the practice and methods of artistic social action. I was blessed to have been able to sit and have a long chat with this inspiring figure. Harry Belafonte, and the work of artists and social activism in the world, is a model of immense importance and relevance today. Artists and educators have an important duty to shape our times with knowledge of this side of the work of music. Harry Belafonte and people who marched and worked in the civil rights days had to put themselves in the shoes of other people, and possessed a kind of not sympathy, but empathy.