*Two generations of singers. One common topic.
Moderated by Soledad O’Brien, the conversation between the 37-year-old “I Don’t Mind” hitmaker and the 88-year-old music veteran/activist included mutual respect expressed as Usher called Belafonte a hero, mentor and father figure and Belafonte gave props to black celebrities like Usher, Jay Z (who was in the audience) and Common for “renewing a commitment to change after a ‘very me’ generation immediately following the civil rights era,” according to the Associated Press.
“I’m glad I lived long enough to see this emergence,” said Belafonte, in an apparent turnaround from criticism he made two years ago about Jay Z, Beyoncé and other young black entertainers turning “their back on social responsibility.”
Usher’s appearance with Belafonte comes amid the release of his latest single, “Chains,” a tune that blasts racism and police violence with assists from Nas and Bibi Bourelly (scroll down to listen). Furthering the impact of the tune, the AP notes that Belafonte his nonprofit organization www.sankofa.org, contributed to the making of an interactive video that stops playing if you turn away from images of black men who were killed at the hands of police such as Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
“This conversation comes at a time when I think it’s a necessity for us as artists to use our platforms in a significant way,” Usher said, adding that Belafonte and his peers “used everything they’ve got, or they had, in order for us to have that platform.”
Belafonte’s activism with Usher marks the latest chapter in a longstanding history of work he’s done to address troubling issues. During his appearance, the vocalist educated the multigenerational crowed on the history of black resilience that goes back to slavery, in addition to labeling power of art as a way to slow “the rush to the bank.”
Belafonte went on mock President Barack Obama’s famous campaign slogan “Yes We Can.”
“The political cleverness, if you want to call it that, (is) the sentence was never finished,” he said. “Yes we can what?”
Answering Belantonte’s question, a tearful Usher touched on making the country “a land of hope” as he seemed to be asking himself as much as anyone in the audience what may result from any future movement.
“I’m inquisitive in my young age,” he said, while calling “Chains” the beginning of a conversation. “When do we really face the issues that are within our system?”