Maybe it was the audible, irrepressible joy, the mischief, or the heartfelt delivery in every song he sang; qualities that obliterated any pain or doubt, drew me out of my shyness long enough to memorize Man Piaba / Woman Piaba, or Cocoanut Woman. By listening carefully, I could see in my mind’s eye the full detail of whichever character he happened to be singing about.

Was it the percussion alone? Or the playful vocabulary of calypso as a whole? Was it simply the FUN in singing along with “Matilda”, “Scratch Me Back” or “Jump In the Line”? Whatever the ingredients, I have memorized the lyrics, savored the music and danced to it my entire life.

Why am I having such a difficult time expressing what Belafonte’s music means to me? Perhaps because it touches something so fundamental and personal that words simply dissipate. Here is what I am trying to say about Belafonte: long before I became aware of his dedication to the civil rights movement, he provided a healing for my spirit that I didn’t know I needed. That laid the foundation for all his admirable works I was to learn about – and not merely learn about, but attempt to imitate as an adult.

Excavating aspects of the depth, breadth, and width of an artist’s work in 90 minutes or less is an impossible endeavor. But we are going to have a LOT of fun trying…

– René Marie