's influence on pop music is much more far-reaching than many realize. Born in Harlem, but spending a good part of his childhood in his mother's native Jamaica, Belafonte
grew up straddling cultures and musical styles, and bridging perceived differences became his calling card as an entertainer. He was one of the first performers to bring worldbeat rhythms to the U.S. charts in the postwar era, and his silky-smooth mixture of jazz, folk, pop, and art song, often with impossibly infectious West Indies-styled accompaniment, coupled with his charismatic good looks and easy, hip coolness and sharp racial and political sense meant he was never reduced to being a mere commodity, even though he spent his whole career on major labels. Innovative, intelligent, and unceasingly creative, Belafonte
's unique ability to find pop success with artful and socially committed material means he is long overdue for a critical reappraisal, and 2011 may well provide that with the release of his autobiography, My Song
, co-written with Michael Shnayerson, and an HBO documentary on his life, Sing Your Song
, directed by Susan Rostock and produced by Michael Cohl. This concise set, the soundtrack companion to that documentary, contains Belafonte
's best-known and most essential tracks, including “Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair),” the ever enduring “Banana Boat Song (Day-O),” the gorgeous “Jamaica Farewell,” “Matilda,” “Jump in the Line,” and “Turn the World Around.” It shows a committed, consistent artist with an elegant and hopeful vision who always brought intelligence, passion, and grace to the table.