Threesome due in town for tribute
By Michael Grossberg
The King Arts Complex is set to honor three men who believe that art and activism have much more in common than their first letters.
“As an artist, you do what's essential to art to try to understand the human dynamic,” actor Danny Glover said recently from southern California. “And that dynamic is most profound in the struggle of people for justice and identity.”
On Wednesday night, Glover will join singer-actor Harry Belafonte and Smithsonian Institution policy developer James Early in receiving the second annual Legends & Legacies awards from the complex.
“I came out of social activism even before I was an artist,” Glover said. “For me, it's a part of my acculturation — the way I envision and imagine myself as a citizen.”
Belafonte, speaking from New York, agreed.
“I've always believed that art is related to social inspiration. Why else does it exist?” the civil-rights pioneer said.
“All we know about the world is through art and how it defines the society in which we live.”
Last year, six women were recognized as the first
Legends & Legacies honorees: actress Ruby Dee, writer-poet Nikki Giovanni, writer-poet Sonia Sanchez, singer Odetta, writer-poet Mari Evans and actress-producer-writer Val Gray Ward.
“We honored women's social activism as related to women's issues and civil rights,” said Barbara Nicholson, executive director of the King Complex.
“This year, the issue is global activism.”
Nicholson noted how each award recipient leaves a legacy. “And each person is recognized for having an independent voice — to take on an issue, to step out, to dare.”
Wayne Lawson, former executive director of the Ohio Arts Council, lauded the honorees: “How can you beat that kind of talent? Just look at those names and their histories.”
The least-known of the trio is James Early.
“He's such an intellect,” Lawson said. “He knows the arts and humanities, and he brings to the program a knowledge and history that the others don't.”
Belafonte and Glover serve with Early on the board of the TransAfrica Forum, a nonprofit Washington group that explores the effect of U.S. foreign policy on Africa and on the children of the African diaspora in the Caribbean basin and Latin America.
“I'm a social activist who works in the area of culture, and I've worked with both of them on public presentations on the concept of a citizen-artist,” explained Early, 61, who has worked at the Smithsonian since 1984, currently as director of cultural studies and communication at the Center for Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies.
Glover said that being recognized with Early and Belafonte enhances the honor.
“Harry, who's been in my life for 30 years, bridges the past through his work with Martin Luther King Jr., and James and I have had parallel growths in our development,” he said.
“Outside of my father . . . Harry is the most important man in my life.”
Nicholson pointed to Glover as an example of someone who has used his artistic success “as a resource to support work done toward social justice, human rights and cultural democracy.
“Most people know Danny Glover from the Lethal Weapon movies and his big box- office hits,” she said. “But he's also used his talents in lesser-known films and used his resources from wealth and fame to further his work in Africa and South America.”
Before he became a Hollywood star, Glover appeared onstage in several of Athol Fugard's socially conscious South African dramas (Master Harold . . . and the Boys, Sizwe Banzi Is Dead and The Island).
“I used them not only as a tool to learn the craft of acting,” he said, “but as a way of stating issues about what's important in the world and whose side we're on.”
Belafonte, 81, recently returned from meetings with Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
“We did a lot of reflecting,” said Belafonte, who is producing a documentary about himself.
“My whole journey has been joyous. . . . To be exposed to Dr. King and Mandela, Bobby Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt — to have gone into the South to meet people like Fannie Lou Hamer, a huge force in the early civil-rights movement — it's a reward in itself.”
Among Belafonte's hit songs are Island in the Sun, Matilda, Jamaica Farewell and the famous Banana Boat Song, whose lyrics highlight Caribbean culture and labor issues.
“Recording that song became a milestone in American pop culture and gave me a platform to say and do things I wouldn't have had a chance to do without the inordinate success of that song,” he said.
“That people responded so passionately to my music gave me the opportunity to do what I've done as a social activist.”