For this weekend, at least, Minneapolis' Walker Art Center looks like it could give New York's famed Apollo Theatre a run for its title as a citadel of African-American arts and culture.
In separate theaters on Thursday, the Walker hosted two prominent African-American artists from different generations who both drew diverse audiences.
Legendary actor, singer, producer and humanitarian Harry Belafonte joined Scott Foundas, associate program director of the Film Society at Lincoln Center, for an onstage conversation. The talk followed a screening of "Sing Your Song," a screen biography of Belafonte. "Song" was one of several films screened in a Belafonte retrospective at the Walker, including "Odds Against Tomorrow," "Kansas City" and "Carmen Jones," which co-starred Dorothy Dandridge, who was nominated for an Oscar.
Belafonte, 83, blamed her tragic death on her success and the limitations of Hollywood . There were no opportunities for her to use her talent, he said.
Belafonte regaled audiences with tales of how he became a singer (via hanging out jazz clubs after acting classes). He also talked about his training in classes with then-unknown actors as Walter Matthau, Tony Curtis (who was known then by his given name, Bernard Schwartz), Bea Arthur and Marlon Brando. In fact, said Belafonte, it was Brando's death that prompted him to look inward and do a documentary of his life.
Belafonte walked gingerly with a cane. But he spoke forcefully, his gravelly full of power and his own truth.speaking his gravelly truth. He told stories about talking with Martin Luther King on the night before his assassination.
Meanwhile, upstairs in the McGuire Theater, Marc Joseph Bamuthi blended spoken word, hip hop, gut-bucket singing and modern dance in the premiere of "Red, Black & Green: A Blues." The show, which continues Friday and Saturday, sketches heart-wrenching vignettes of struggle and healing, survival and sacrifice from Texas to Sudan. Bamuthi and his Living Word Project collaborators, directed by Michael John Garces, dance with grit and elegance as they draw attention to social issues.
Belafonte should have been proud.
As if to underline the comparisons to the Apollo, where President Obama showed off his tenor on Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," the Walker on Friday played host to First Lady Michelle Obama. She was the headliner for a high-priced fundraiser. No word yet on whether or not she lifted her voice to sing.