Music Is My Oxygen: Harry Belafonte

Today was my mother’s birthday, so I can’t imagine writing about anything other than music. I grew up in a house that was never silent, as during the day, when everyone else was at work or school, either the radio or albums were always playing. When I was very young, sometimes my mother herself would be the one playing, on the piano to provide the soundtrack for our days.

This piano. Before I was born, she purchased it for $25 in a silent auction from the primary school in my village.

My personal love of music can be traced directly back to my mother’s influence. She nurtured my creative side, teaching me the basics of how to play the piano before I was school age. But it was the record albums that I really remember.

We had a turntable that could play multiple albums. You stacked around half-a-dozen of them at the top of a post, and the player would drop them down one-at-a-time. Then, when all of them had played, you could flip them over to play the other sides. (Kind of like an early version of Music Shuffle.) My mother would load it up in the morning with her music choices for the day. And when I was a little kid, I got to choose one album.

That was always the best part of my day. I’d get my mother to choose hers first, then go through what was left, trying to find something I wanted to listen to that would also mesh well with her selections. I still remember the little clicking sound my finger would make as I ran it along the album spines, studying the collection.

And what a collection it was. Tom Jones, Vera Lynn, Englebert Humperdinck, Wayne Newton, ABBA. I could have written about any of them today.

But I didn’t. Because, when it comes to my mother and music, it had to be Harry Belafonte.

Before I was born, my parents and another couple went to see Belafonte in concert – such a hugely, massively, insanely, mind-bogglingly out-of-character thing for them to do that any time my mother spoke of it, it always felt like some kind of alien must have taken her over for that moment.

She spoke of it a lot, about two things in particular. One was to tell the story of how the other couple had the tickets, and on the day of the show, the wife phoned my mother in a panic because she couldn’t find them. My mother ended up going to her house to help search for them.

The other was that Harry Belafonte was the sexist man she had ever seen. You want to talk about out-of-character! My mother was one of the most repressed individuals I have ever met, so for her to so much as say someone was attractive was out of place. For her to use the word ‘sexy?’ Mind-blowing!

And it’s why this happened.

I love how the tickets were in the 5th row and only cost $26.75.

When I was a teenager, I heard that Harry Belafonte was coming to Ottawa. I didn’t so much ask my mother if she wanted to go as tell her I was taking her. (And I did take her as, much to her discomfort, I paid for the tickets.) I couldn’t wait to share the experience with her. On the night, I watched her out of the corner of my eye, and she never took her eyes off him the whole show.

And who can blame her?

He is, after all, a very sexy man.

For more posts in this series, click here.

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