NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 20: (L-R) DJ Kool Herc, Harry Belafonte and Melle Mel attend the "Beat Street" screening, panel & performance hosted by the Tribeca Film Institute at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on October 20, 2012 in New York City.

Harry Belafonte Gave Hip-Hop One of Its Earliest Movies

Harry Belafonte Gave Hip-Hop One of Its Earliest Movies

Published Tue, April 25, 2023 at 4:00 PM EDT

Singer, actor, producer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte has died at 96.

Belafonte, who was a musical giant in his own right, released "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" in 1956, and was the brains behind USA for Africa and the iconic "We Are The World." Belafonte was also the executive producer of Beat Street, the 1984 Hip-Hop movie which featured The Rock Steady Crew, The New York City Breakers, Grandmaster Melle Mel and The Furious 5, US Girls which consisted of Debbie D, Sha Rock and Lisa Lee, Kool Herc, Jazzy Jay and The Treacherous 3 with Doug E. Fresh.

He's an intelligent guy and a legend in his own right. He was the first Black man to appear bare chested on national television, an icon in civil rights, and we were all transfixed because of his intelligence.

- Melle Mel on Harry Belafonte

Steven Hager, who wrote the script for Beat Street, told The Foundation that Jane Fonda's production company passed on Beat Street, so he sold it to Belafonte.

"I wrote the script which was originally called 'The Perfect Beat,' and I took it to Jane Fonda's production company," he said. "They passed on it, but offered me a contract giving her the rights to it for $500. I went to Harry Belafonte with it and they gave me a 'story credit' but the finished product didn't resemble what I wrote in my script. They kept a few character names, but didn't show the nasty and violent aspects of The Bronx that were in my original piece."

The cast of Beat Street, which included many legendary Hip-Hop figures interacted quite a bit with Belafonte. Grandmaster Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5 performed the title song to the movie's soundtrack. He recently spoke at Emerson College about his part in the movie performing "Beat Street Breakdown."

"We weren't supposed to be in the movie. We were touring and had other music out," he explained. "I wrote the song so that the guy that played the lead could perform it, but he could never get the lyrics. If you look at the movie he comes out and does the first verse, and they tweak my voice to sound different, then I come out and do the second verse." Mel then speaks about Belafonte's influence on his highly revered lyrics in the song. "My influence was a conversation, not even a conversation, but listening to him talk for 10 minutes or so," he said. "Just hearing the words of a great man, we were so electrified, and hearing him talk about the world made me write it."

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