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Belefonte documentary set to air on HBO

At 84, Harry Belafonte doesn’t sing publicly anymore, but his music is no less rich or compelling. Even delivered in the form of the spoken words, he voices lyrically and from his heart.

“What a blessing, what a blessing,” he marveled in his distinctive sandy whisper, summing up his life in a recent interview.

Of course, Mr. Belafonte has not been the only beneficiary of that busy, blessed life. He has brought pleasure to millions with his singing. He earned the first-ever gold record for an album for 1956’s “Calypso,” which produced the inescapable smash single “Banana Boat (Day-O)” and gained international stardom in concert, on TV and in film in such movies as “Carmen Jones” (1954), “The World, the Flesh and the Devil” and “Buck and the Preacher.” He won a Tony Award in 1954 for his featured role in “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.”

Mr. Belafonte blended his artistry with activism by playing a key role in the civil rights movement alongside such leaders as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, whom he pushed for more aggressive protection of blacks, and President Kennedy, whom Mr. Belafonte schooled as a presidential candidate on the importance of King’s mission, while simultaneously advising King on how to work with the Kennedys.

The child of a Jamaican-born domestic worker in Harlem, Mr. Belafonte understood and condemned social injustices from a young age and resolved to help correct them.

“I wasn’t an artist who turned activist, I was an activist who turned artist,” he said.

Belafonte’s journey forms a connect-the-dots map of six decades of popular culture and social crusades. It also drives “Sing Your Song,” a beautifully conceived documentary about Mr. Belafonte’s life and the era the rest of us have shared with him. The film premieres at 10 p.m. Monday on HBO.

At first, he felt narcissistic and superfluous doing a documentary, Mr. Belafonte said, hosting a reporter at his awards- and mementos-filled office in the Manhattan neighborhood once known as Hell’s Kitchen.

“What have I got to say that people want to hear, if they’re not hearing it during the time I lived doing it?” he said.

But then he learned a lesson from Marlon Brando, an old friend with whom he took acting classes in the early 1950s and subsequently became allied in the civil rights movement.

When Brando died in 2004, “I felt not only that America had lost a great artist, but a great social force,” Mr. Belafonte said. “But people knew little about his social activism, and he passed away without leaving any record of it.

“So I started going around, identifying all of the people who were my peers who had done incredible things but never talked about it. What began as a simple exercise in providing for the archives wound up taking four years of nothing but filming all over the world.”

Britain considers ban on Iran’s Press TV

British officials are preparing to ban Iran’s English-language Press TV, the broadcaster said Friday. Regulator Ofcom confirmed that it is considering punitive action, but said no decision has been made.

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