Happy Birthday Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte

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!

 

Poitier photo credit:  U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. (ca. 1953 – ca. 1978) – NARA – ARC Identifier:542075 (use http://arcweb.archives.gov/arc/basic_search.jsp and search Actor and Vocalist Harry Belafonte), Avalik omand, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=146400
By United States Department of the Interior National Park Service – http://www.nps.gov/features/malu/feat0002/wof/Sidney_Poitier.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28814756

Sidney Poitier and Studs Terkel in 1959

We are in the thick of awards season – the Golden Globe and SAG ceremonies are recently behind us, and the Oscars are just a few weeks away.  This year we are again facing what has become an all-too-familiar issue – the lack of diversity in the nominations.

Sidney Poitier made history in 1964 as the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor (the next African American man to win the award would be Denzel Washington in 2001); and in 1968 (the year In the Heat of the Night won Best Picture and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner won Best Original Screenplay) he, among others, refused to attend the ceremony if it was not moved from its planned date of April 8 – the night before Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral.  The ceremony was moved to April 10.

Five years earlier, in 1959, The Defiant Ones won Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay.  (One of the writers, Nedrick Young, had been blacklisted, and the Oscar was awarded to his pseudonym, Nathan E. Douglas.  In 1993, the credit was restored to his proper name.)  The film was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, and four members of the cast were nominated, including Sidney Poitier.

Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones.

Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones

Later that year, Poitier joined Studs in the studio.  Although their conversation took place only five years before Poitier’s historic win, in terms of Civil Rights setbacks and triumphs, those years covered a lot of ground: the SNCC was founded, the Freedom Rides began, Dr. King made his “I Have a Dream” speech, and Medgar Evers, President Kennedy, and Dr. King were all killed.

But before all that happened, Poitier was talking about his experiences in the West Indies and in Hollywood, and his hopes for future African American stars.

Photo credit: By trailer screenshot (United Artists) (The Defiant Ones trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Using the Studs Terkel Radio Archive in the Classroom (part 2)

In a world where we are constantly bombarded by an ever-changing, impermanent parade of sound bites, memes, video clips, and “breaking news” ticker tape, taking sixty minutes to listen to an interview can feel like a major time commitment.  For those of us who remember when the world was a little slower, it means rediscovering how to sit quietly and focus on something that does not scroll, beep, refresh, or show videos of really cute baby animals.  And for those of us who don’t remember that world, it may mean learning a new way of hearing and processing information.  Not an easy task.

And yet, as we’ve mentioned before on this blog, we are strongly committed to introducing Studs’s work to a new, young audience.  Continue reading →

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