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Belafonte Can’t Shake Tally Man Past

In the process of researching LexisNexis for articles pertaining to the American media’s coverage of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, I came across an O’Reilly Factor transcript including a discussion of some of Harry Belafonte’s controversial statements criticizing the Bush administration’s apocalyptic foreign policy. Bill O’Reilly and guest, Juan Williams, had an engaging back and forth weighing the influence of Belafonte’s comments. Here’s a sample:

O'REILLY: But -- but, you know that sound bite is on Al Jazeera, it's all over Africa, it's all over the world, and the anti-Americans just take it and run, because people don't know who Harry Belafonte is, other than he had a song once 40 years ago.

WILLIAMS: Right. I think, you know, basically, as I said to you before, I think he's a bitter old man. At this point he's a has-been. I mean, he's probably best known for that day-old banana song. But you know, who cares at this point?

Several things popped out at me, but the first thing I thought was, is “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” actually about day-old-bananas?

Fortunately, about a year ago I inherited an LP of Belafonte’s classic Calypso from my grandfather’s discarded record collection. The first thing one might notice is that the first song on both sides of the record are virtually identical. “Day-O” starts the A-side, while the B-side opens with “Star-O.” With this information we can estimate that Juan Williams suggestion that day-O actually is day old, as in day old banana, is entirely wrong—unsurprising, since bananas keep a lot longer than, say, doughnuts or bagels. What we are dealing with here is a simple binary of night and day, and Williams might do himself a service of listening to both songs to clear up his misunderstanding. The accurate topical description of the complementary songs is simply a meditation on working all day and all night. Belafonte’s presents a slice of the Jamaican worker’s plight- subject matter not without an intrinsic importance and seriousness. Also one might want to correct O’Reilly’s summation of Belafonte’s career as a flash in the pan, not to mention look into his activity in the American civil rights movement during the 1950s and ‘60s.

Coming across such information gave me the idea to look into further misinformation in reference to Belafonte’s statements. A simple search of LexisNexis for “Belafonte” and “banana” yields some interesting results.

Human Prawn and Fox News Pundit Alan Colmes framed the debate over some of Belafonte’s controversial comments at the beginning of an installment of Hannity and Colmes. Colmes stated, “Has he fallen off his banana boat? We'll debate it.”

Jack Cafferty, on CNN’s Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, stated in reference to  Belafonte, “When you juxtapose ‘Day-O’—wasn't it, ‘The Banana Boat Song’... with his political proclamations about a socialist revolution in Venezuela, well, it's like, you know, I just don't know what to make of it all.” Hmmm… intriguing point there, Jack.

Michelle Malkin, author of Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild, refers to Belafonte as a “Barking moonbat has-been” and suggests he might consider sparing “us all and make” his “trip to Venezuela one-way-o…?” Ouch, yet another blow to Belafonte as being singularly defined by his early success. But can we really understand Belafonte with just one song, not to mention can we understand the meaning of “Day-O” without flipping the record and listening to “Star-O?”

The final deathblow comes from the Ogden Nash of Conservative politics, F.R. Duplantier. In limerick form, it is suggested that, “On the occasion he loses his way-o; Belafonte then causes dismay-o,” closing with the question, “Why not stick to the singing of ‘Day-O?’ ” I’d consider it a ribald poem, no doubt, but also an efficacious undercutting of Belafonte’s exuberance. Word has it Danny Glover has been spotted courting Chavez, I predict a serious influx of “I’m too old for this shit” jokes with the intent of diluting any pro-Chavez sentiments in the United States.



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