Harry Belafonte


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Legendary is a three-CD Harry Belafonte compilation assembled by David Rowe for the various international territories of BMG from Belafonte's RCA Victor recordings of the 1950s and '60s. It's an unassuming package, a double jewel box containing little more than the discs and a three-page booklet listing the song titles with an unsigned seven-paragraph appreciation. But the value of the collection lies in the contents, not the trappings. Rowe well deserves his credits for researching and compiling the album. With a generous choice of 50 tracks and a running time of over three hours, Legendary offers an excellent overview of the bulk of Belafonte's most successful recordings. As of 2001, RCA had not given Belafonte the honor of the kind of box set retrospective other artists of his stature (and many of considerably less) had been given. In the absence of such a consideration, Legendary may be the next best thing, albeit without the lavish annotations typical of box sets. In roughly chronological order, it takes the listener from Belafonte's early triumphs with such albums as Calypso and Belafonte, through his exciting live recordings on Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, and on to the varied albums devoted to such genres as gospel and blues during the '60s. Rowe identifies and includes Belafonte's best-known songs, such as the hits "The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)" and "Jamaica Farewell"; key album tracks; and occasional rarities in the form of material originally issued only on singles. (The only real hit that is missing is "Island in the Sun.") With the waning of the folk revival he helped lead and his own turn toward social work and away from music, Belafonte saw his status as a major musical star erode after the '60s. Legendary reminds listeners of the breadth of this prolific artist's work. There was a lot more to the story than calypso, and the album suggests the actual outlines of that story. It would be nice to have better packaging, but that no doubt would drive up the price of an album that is available at modest expense in most of the world.

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