The “Banana Boat” Guy Comes to the Walker

Harry Belafonte—actor, activist, King of Calypso—visits Minneapolis for the local debut of his new biographical documentary.

Harry Belafonte visits the Walker this Thursday having just turned 85. His birthday is March 1.

This can be hard to imagine. Especially if you remember him as “The Banana Boat Song” guy, the devastatingly handsome, light skinned black kid who introduced Calypso music to America with the phrase “Daylight come, and me wanna go home.” In fact, pull up the cover art for that album—1956’s Calypso, the first full-length gramophone LP to sell over 1 million copies—and you’ll see a Bruno Mars-esque dreamboat, lips parted to reveal some of the pearliest whites the music industry has every seen.

But the guy has lived. Born in Harlem in 1927, the son of a Jamaican housekeeper and a Martiniquan navy chef, Belafonte’s career has steered him through some of the most defining events—both pop-cultural and political—of the 20th Century.


  • In the 1940s, he snuck into theaters to watch plays with his friend Sidney Poitier.
  • The first time he ever played music live, he was backed by Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.
  • He became a political and humanitarian activist, refusing to play in the American South during the last half of the 1950s.
  • He was one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s closest confidants, financing the Freedom Rides and helping to organize the March on Washington in 1963. He once bailed King out of the Birmingham City Jail.  
  • John F. Kennedy appointed him as cultural advisor to the Peace Corps.
  • He aggressively spoke out against George W. Bush and the Iraq War, and just last year, came out in unequivocal support of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

There is so much history compressed into this man, he’s like a walking American Studies department.


Harry Belafonte, left, and Marlon Brando in the documentary “Sing Your Song.”

So naturally, he is the subject of a new biographical documentary, Sing Your Song, which debuts locally at the Walker on Thursday night. In it, Belafonte recounts his ascendancy in New York’s nightclubs and theaters, his two-decade blaze through Hollywood from the 1940s through the 1960s, and his lifetime of fierce social activism. Along the way, the audience hears from some of the singer’s friends and colleagues, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Sidney Poitier, Paul Robeson, Nat King Cole, Dorothy Dandridge, and Marlon Brando.

Belafonte himself will be at the museum, sitting for a Regis Dialogue with Scott Foundas, associate director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. A Q-and-A with the audience will follow.

The visit is the central jewel in the Walker’s Belafonte film retrospective, which features screenings of four of the singer’s most iconic films.  

Sing Your Song
Thursday, March 15, 7 p.m.
Followed by a Regis Dialogue with Scott Foundas
$20 ($15 for Walker Members and students)
Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls.