Harry Belafonte, March 1, 1927 – April 25, 2023
When it comes to superstars, none compare to the superstar status held by Harry Belafonte. By profession, Belafonte was a singer and actor. By necessity, he was an activist and humanitarian.
On January 19, 2013, the eve of Barack Obama’s second inauguration and just preceding the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday, an 86-year-old Harry Belafonte held a full audience at The Moore Theatre, engrossed in his story-telling for more than an hour. A staunch critic of President Obama, and a trusted and loyal friend to Dr. King, Belafonte did not mince words. Nor was he indecisive about his loyalty.
I had been invited to interview Mr. Belafonte that evening which was enough to occupy my entire mind for the days leading up, but nothing compared to meeting the man. Breath left my body. He was tall, even at his advanced age. He was gracious, asking about me and how I came to be his interviewer. He was quick-witted and his memory was super sharp. I stood backstage and listened, engrossed in his stories and his musings about the state of the world, thinking that there was nothing I could possibly add. Maybe he would decide to forego the interview part, which would be fine with me! Suddenly, he called my name, “Vivian, you should come on out and join me.” I recall nothing after that except sitting on the airplane hours later with my grandson, headed to Obama’s inauguration. I will never forget the feeling of standing next to him and feeling changed by his mere presence.
My gratitude to the universe for putting me in the same space as someone of his stature is enormous. It’s not like I knew him, having only had that one encounter, but for whatever reason, there is a large hole that formed in my heart upon learning of his passing. The old saying, “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” resonates loudly at the moment. He was one of a kind, seemingly made from a mold that has long ago been tossed away and exchanged for a newer, seemingly less impactful model.
Rest in perfect power mighty warrior.
New York Times Obituary and photos below, click the image for more.
Photographer Kwame Braithwaite, January 1, 1938 – April 1, 2023
When it comes to Black photographers a number of names easily fall from our lips—Gordon Parks, Ernest Withers, James Van Der Zee, Chester Higgins, Jr., Carrie Mae Weems, and Ruby Latoya Frazier, for instance. Mention the name Kwame Braithwaite and it’s like a bomb explodes, conjuring up thoughts of his incredibly poignant photography. Images of Grace Jones, Muhammad Ali, The Jackson Five, Bob Marley, and even the iconic Revelations poster image, Untitled, from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.
Braithwaite photography, whether in color or black and white, brought stunning qualities to Black bodies. His lighting techniques, camera angles, and processing techniques made every image stand out. He illuminated the Black is Beautiful Movement. His writing and photography, over the course of six decades, intersected music, fashion, activism, and global art.
Braithwaite died on April 1st in New York. Though the camera shutters have closed, Kwame Braithwaite is remembered as someone who opened our eyes to the beauty of Blackness. Learn more about his life and view his photography on his website.