Two lights of the entertainment and civil rights worlds are turning 90 this year, Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier. Both men used their artistry and their fame to bring awareness to the plight of African-Americans in our country, as well to shine a spotlight on the amazing contributions African-Americans have made to our nation.
In 1959, Sidney Poitier visited Studs in the studio to talk about his new film The Defiant Ones.
In this clip, he tells Studs how he first became interested in acting. It leads Studs to ask him, “Has the thought of playing a role, a person who is not necessarily Negro, just an actor; he is neither Negro nor white, just a certain character? Has this thought occurred to you or come into your ken?”
“Oh of course it has,” replies Poitier. In his response, he describes his hopes for a future we still have not attained.
In one of the earliest interviews we have in the archive, Studs sits down to talk with Harry Belafonte about music.
In this clip, Belafonte talks to Studs about how he perceives his responsibility as an artist: “I am intellectually conscious of the time when it first became evident to me that I had a responsibility as an artist, but my responsibility in relationship to my people, and in relationship to the culture of my people far surpassing anything else. It was the recognition of this responsibility that I gave my artistic life a direction.”
Later on in the same interview, Studs and Belafonte talk about the role of the church in the African-American community. Belafonte goes on to talk about Mahalia Jackson, how he believes that she embodies the role of a leader in the community and admires the way she connects spirituals and popular music. He gives the example of her version of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and after talking about the history of the song, Belafonte asks to hear it. You can hear it below.
We’re proud to have these men’s voices as part of our archive, and wish them both very happy 90th birthdays!