Remembering Two Great Artists: Harry Belafonte & Gordon Lightfoot

May 19, 2023 | PDA News

Harry Belafonte and Gordon Lightfoot Talked the Talk and Walked the Walk


In the past month, two great activist spirits have left us: Harry Belafonte, singer and barrier-breaking actor died on April 25 at the age of 96; Canadian-born singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot died on May 1 at the age of 84.

Harry Belafonte was a great humanitarian and part of the Civil Rights movement. His songs and performances asked people to step outside their comfort zones. As an actor he refused to play subservient and stereotypical roles, often to the detriment of his working career. “I was an activist who became an artist, I was not an artist who became an activist,” the progressive champion once said. Activist and scholar Cornell West called Belafonte “my very dear brother,” predicting, “His artistic genius, moral courage & loving soul shall live forever!”

PDA activist Chuck Pennachio said it best: “We win justice for all with radical hospitality, radical hope, and radical love. Harry Belafonte showed us the way.”

Gordon Lightfoot’s work included songs that went beyond the fluffy popular idiom, depicting problems growing because of inaction (Too Late for Prayin’, Ode to Big Blue), celebration of working folk (Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Mother of a Miner’s Child, The Canadian Railroad Trilogy), his great antiwar anthem (The Patriot’s Dream), and exposition of racial inequalities (Black Day in July, Circle of Steel, Cherokee Bend). He actively supported climate change initiatives, and lent his star presence to Indigenous rights and environmental projects headed by First Nations activists.

Both of these men opened new windows and invited people to be kinder, more thoughtful, and take action to make the world a better place. That’s what PDA does every day of every year. We will miss their presence, even as we follow their examples.

Rest in Power, Harry and Gordon.

Debra Schrishuhn for the PDA National Team