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My Song: A Memoir Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 11, 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 110 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“An honest, in many ways important and genuinely revelatory autobiography. . . . My Song reveals, Belafonte was more than celebrity eye candy, burnishing his image with a little politically correct politicking. He not only talked the talk, but walked the walk. . . . My Song is more than fitting denouement for a life well lived.” —Curt Schleier, Seattle Times

“In My Song, a brave and spellbinding memoir written with Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Shnayerson, Belafonte tells a sweeping story . . . riveting . . . In these days of national and global uncertainty, with the numbers of poor steadily rising, there are lessons aplenty in the life of Harry Belafonte, as told in this surprising and revelatory book.” —Wil Haygood, Washington Post

“ . . . engrossing autobiographical account of a life devoted in equal parts to entertainment and social causes. My Song is rich with vivid scenes of Belafonte working as an adviser, mediator, fundraiser and implementer with such players as John and Robert Kennedy and King.” —Tom Nolan, San Francisco Chronicle
“Here is a gorgeous account of the large life of a Harlem boy . . . Scenes of extravagant waste, scenes of righteous anger—rich contradictions abound—with little attempt to explain them away, a mark of the honest autobiographer.” —Garrison Keillor, New York Times Book Review
“Absorbing . . .” —Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, New York
“To read Harry Belafonte's new memoir, My Song, is to discover a man who has packed enough life for 10 people into 84 years.” —“Morning Edition,” NPR
“Somewhere amid the accounts of when he became the first artist to sell a million copies of an album, the first black leading actor to romance a white leading actress in a major Hollywood film, and the man who was asked to help pick out the clothes that Martin Luther King Jr. would be buried in, you realize just how extraordinary Harry Belafonte’s life has been. If Belafonte had simply pursued one strand of that life - the immensely popular singer, the Tony Award-winning actor, the powerful political and social activist - it would have made fascinating material for a book. That he managed to cram all three into his 84 years makes My Song, his captivating memoir written with Michael Shnayerson, not only a sometimes exhausting chronicle of Belafonte’s own story but an intriguing look at US history from the late ’40s to the present. . . . One of the book’s triumphs involves the way Belafonte and Shnayerson manage to capture Belafonte’s distinctive voice . . . You can almost hear him narrate the story in his stately rasp.” —Sarah Rodman, The Boston Globe
“Bracingly opinionated autobiography from an American original, still provocative in his ninth decade.” —Kirkus (starred)

About the Author

Harry Belafonte’s 1956 album Calypso made him the first artist in history to sell more than one million LPs. He has won both a Tony Award and an Emmy, and he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton. He has served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and is the recipient of Kennedy Center Honors for excellence in the performing arts. He currently resides in New York City with his wife, Pamela.
Michael Shnayerson, a longtime contributing editor to Vanity Fair, is the author of Irwin Shaw; The Car That Could; The Killers Within, coauthored with Mark J. Plotkin, and Coal River, which recounted the efforts of Appalachian lawyers and grassroots groups to stop the devastating practice of mountaintop coal removal in southern West Virginia. Shnayerson’s passion for those environmental activists was one reason Harry Belafonte chose him to collaborate on his autobiography. Shnayerson lives in Bridgehampton, New York, with his daughter, Jenna.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307272263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307272263
  • ASIN: 0307272265
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.5 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #326,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As a younger man I believe I was jealous of Belafonte. All the girls, and not a few older women, swooned at his good looks. I think I realized that Banana Boat told the story of the farm workers I saw in cotton fields and peach orchards. I knew something of his close association with Martin Luther King, and of his broader fundraising for the Movement as a whole. I saw his movies, and think I recall his sitting in for Johnny Carson. I knew of his involvement in Africa and his work on behalf of the UN. I had no idea of the depth of his involvement or the skill he brought as a negotiator in behalf of so many causes. In an age in which celebrity, it seems, is sought by any means necessary, he shows, perhaps more than any one I can think of, how such notoriety can be put to the service of worthy ends.
Will he make it past the scars of early poverty and other demons of his growing up? Will he make it past grief at the deaths of heroes and close friends and the break up of marriages, the loss of dear friendships? Will he maintain the integrity that is threatened in this culture by both wealth and celebrity? Will he throw in the towel? There is an element of suspense in My Song that makes it a gripping companion to Taylor Branch and the work of others As I read I found myself almost praying for him. Strike the "almost".
In a sense the prayers are not just for Harry Belafonte, but for all of us. Handsome or not, known to many or just a few, something about Belafonte's story says that we can step up, and he encourages us, all of us, to continue to struggle to do so.
For those who seek to keep the legacies of King and Robeson, Mandela and Fannie Lou Haimer, Ella Baker and Malcolm X alive, this is a book to be cherished.
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Format: Hardcover
I doubt if we will ever again see the likes of Mr. Harry Belafonte (HB), or the likes of an autobiography as meaty and as life affirming as this one. No one else in the American entertainment firmament will ever have as the back up group to his nineteen year old "coming out debut:" Charley Parker, Max Roach, Al Haig, and Tommy Potter! And that is just for openers. From that auspicious beginning, Harry Belafonte's life, although it did not get easier, did just keep on getting more and more interesting.

Here is a story full of life -- that is to say full of its challenges, tragedies, pathos and victories, both lows and highs -- that challenge and warm the human spirit. But somehow too, it is a life in which against all odds the good guy keeps on winning. As he crosses the red-hot coals of America's racist society, Mr. Belafonte just keeps jumping from one preset trap after another, until he has simply grown too big, too powerful and too rich for the traps to work against him any longer. And while he never completely crosses the hot desert sands (no one ever does in this society), he does repeatedly subdue American racism by "outfoxing" and "end-running" it.

Born on the cusp of the Black Renaissance - a dirt-poor immigrant with meager talents, and from a broken family - Harry Belafonte caught the last seat on the train that contained the heroes of that era. Not only did he rub shoulders with the likes of Paul Robeson and WEB Du Bois, but also they were among his mentors, teachers and friends. So too were a host of other Hollywood types that later gained great fame (or infamy) as more than just plastic personalities. They included Marlon Brando and Shelly Winters, among many others.
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Format: Hardcover
Harry Belafonte's My Song is a fascinating account of a profoundly meaningful life. A brilliant artist, a committed social activist and an admittedly troubled, flawed personality, Belafonte was an active participant in most of the struggles for civil rights and social democracy in the 20th century. A close adviser to Martin Luther King, Jr., so many seminal meetings during the civil rights movement took place in the Belafonte Upper West Side apartment that Clarence Jones, King's longtime lawyer, only half jokingly suggested it be designated a national historical landmark when Belafonte and his ex wife decided to sell it in 2008. Written in a fast-paced style with little or no literary embellishments, My Song is chock full of inside details of the Movement. I learned for the first time that Nelson Rockefeller had the vault of the Chase Manhattan Bank opened late at night to provide Clarence Jones with bail money for King when he was arrested in Albany, GA and then immediately forgave payment of the promissory note he had Jones sign to make it look like a loan. Amazingly, Robert Kennedy also personally contributed to the bail fund, notwithstanding the political risk of an Attorney General of the United States (and brother to the President) doing so. I have only two criticisms of this otherwise wonderful and important book. First, Belafonte's huge ego -- which he freely acknowledges -- sometimes had me wondering whether he was quite as important to the Movement as he repeatedly says. A non-political example well illustrates Belafonte's outsize ego. After noting that Bob Dylan's first recording was as a last-minute substitute harmonica player on Belafonte's Midnight Special album, Belafonte quotes verbatim several paragraphs of Dylan's memoir praising Harry Belafonte.Read more ›
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