And I'm sure I need not remind anyone on this board that the group name was an attempt to patch into Belafonte's popularity by alluding to the island of Jamaica's capital, Kingston. The KT also tried a more direct patch by recording "Scarlet Ribbons" on their second studio album, five years after Harry B had had a charting single release of the tune.
Another folk artist influenced by Belafonte was Joan Baez, who has also always acknowledged the KT as a major influence on her attraction to folk music. The day after Belafonte died, Joan B released this statement:
In my young life, before there was Pete Seeger, before there was Odetta, before there was the Kingston Trio…
there was Harry Belafonte.
And there sat mom and I, gazing at an album cover of the handsomest man we’d ever seen, and listening to “Scarlet Ribbons.” Harry’s voice was scratchy and smooth at the same time, and I would listen to nothing else.
I had recently switched from ukulele to guitar, and proceeded to memorize every song in his repertoire. My singing was wobbly, but hidden in my throat was “the voice.” I found myself in an ever so amateur studio, where I donned large uncomfortable headphones and poked at the large intimidating microphone. Out of the twelve songs I recorded, six were Belafonte’s.
I could not have known then that the man with the scratchy/smooth voice and the face of brown velvet would be there ten years later walking side by side with Dr. King and myself in Montgomery, Alabama. Or that his commitment to nonviolence and civil rights was unshakable, and that as he was lifted up by the movement, he lifted up the movement with his eloquent voice, both singing and speaking.
The last time I saw Harry he was in his nineties and proud of it. His beautiful wife Pam explained to him whatever he didn’t quite hear. He looked like a sage, or a prophet, or a royal. He was virtually blind, but smiled broadly and punctuated the conversation with mischievous comments. He was all there.
When my son and I left the apartment we were verging on tears.
Gabe said, “It’s like we’ve just been in the presence of a f------g prophet.”
We had been.