To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the New Haven-based nonprofit Christian Community Action is bringing legendary musician and social activist Harry Belafonte to the stage of the Shubert Theatre on College Street.
“A Conversation with Harry Belafonte,” a fundraiser for CCA, happens on Oct. 18 at 7:30 p.m.
Now 90 years old, Belafonte rose to international stardom in the 1950s by bringing Caribbean music to the world in a long string of recordings that are now part of the global popular consciousness. He has won three Grammys, an Emmy, and a Tony.
He was also an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement (yes, that was him with Martin Luther King, Jr. in a 1957 march on Washington that Lee Friedlander captured on film and Yale University Art Gallery displayed in a recent exhibit) and later was a prominent voice in the anti-apartheid movement. He has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 1987. He is also celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues with the American Civil Liberties Union and continues to be an outspoken political commentator and critic.
“A Conversation with Harry Belafonte” is expected to range from discussions of local and global issues to a behind-the-scenes look at Belafonte’s career as an entertainer. All proceeds will benefit CCA’s programs, which help families that are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, as well as others struggling with poverty.
CCA’s own advocacy work, explained Rev. Bonita Grubbs, the organization’s executive director, draws directly from the services it provides. “When someone comes in the door and has a need, the priority is figuring out what we can do to help,” she said. “But if there’s more than one person who presents that same need? What does that say about what we need to do?”
“We are always, any time, as a country, in pursuit of a more perfect union,” Grubbs added. “Not perfect, but more perfect. The effort has to be to be continuous to describe what that looks like.”
Are there similarities now to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s? “We are not where we were as a country in the 1950s,” Grubbs said. School desegregation, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — “those are things that people fought for and there was a win.” But the backlash against those victories seems to continue, then as now. “Whether you’re talking about Charlottesville or other places around the country, there seems to be some who say, ‘we want our country back.’”
In the last book that Martin Luther King wrote, Grubbs said, he asked “where do we go from here? Chaos or community?’ He never got to answer that question.” Society is still asking. And “depending on where you sit, you may answer that question differently.”
“The hope is that people get a chance to see that we” — meaning the CCA — “are really thinking about what our role is, and asking King’s question: Where do we go from here?” Grubb added. “Is it in the direction of justice? Is it in the direction of fairness? Is it in the direction of equal protection under the law?”
Grubb’s thoughts dovetailed with Belafonte’s, who in a recent interview with the Independent was as engaged as ever with the issues of the day. “The wanton murder of black youth by angry policemen. Global warming. Problems with Donald Trump,” Belafonte said. “Racism is so pervasive wherever you go.”
“I think we have no option but to think in terms of the future, and in terms of how we can settle these nagging problems on the issue of race,” Belafonte said. “I don’t know that there’s any segment of our society that doesn’t have a responsibility to do something about the problem. Discussion on the subject is very healthy, but finding solutions is even healthier. And I hope to come to New Haven to find solutions.”
His ears are open to those solutions. They’re also as open as ever to the music of the world.
“Beethoven’s Fifth. Brahm’s Third. Bach Preludes. Tony Bennett. John Legend. Alicia Keys. Bruce Springsteen,” Belafonte said, when asked what he’s been listening to lately. But “I listen mostly to music that comes out of the culture of Latin America and Africa” — artists like Baaba Maal, Youssou N’Dour, and Sailf Keita, he said. “I find them more dimensional and challenging.”
“I’m a global creature and I listen to all kinds of music with great consistency,” he added. “I like them all. I listen to them all.”
Individual and group tickets to “A Conversation with Harry Belafonte” are available at the Shubert box office, 247 College St., New Haven, or by calling (203) 562-5666. Click here for more information.