1960 One Man Academy: Album of the Year
- Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, Harry Belafonte
Worth a listen (and not just because it's Sinatra[^1]):
- Come Dance with Me!, Frank Sinatra
Playlist(s) of music in this post: Spotify
About Van Cliburn
1960 is Van Cliburn's second and final nomination for Album of the Year, which makes this an appropriate place for a special mention. While I'm not doing any intentional contextual research for this project, I did unintentionally run across some information about him.
Apparently, homeboy rolled into Russia in the middle of the Cold War to compete in a Tchaikovsky Competition -- a competition which definitely was not intended to have an American winner. However, Van rocked it *so hard* that he walked away with the win and, in my opinion, certified BAMF status.
Check his Wikipedia page here.
Harry at Carnegie######
Belafonte at Carnegie Hall was a fun, fascinating album for this project; I've written and discarded many words about it. My feelings on the album basically unfolded as follows:
- I hate it, and I write as much.
- On general principle I decide a rewrite is necessary, focusing more on what I find problematic about the album, and less on my hatred.
- After more consideration, I tell a friend I want to rework my thoughts, yet again, because I still feel I'm being unduly harsh.
- I decide I do not hate the album and that it's actually quite good. The song "Mama Look a Boo Boo" lights up my heart, producing a love that is pure and true.
I think something I'll call "The Hamilton Effect" can explain at least part of the transition.
The Hamilton Effect
First and foremost, I should publicly apologize to a friend of mine. On October 8th, 2015, she sent me a very simple text message:
OMG...have you listened to Hamilton? So good.
Perhaps I live under a rock, but this was the first time I'd heard of the musical. I was so devoid of context for what I was listening to, I didn't have any point-of-entry to understanding and, subsequently, enjoying the album. My basic thought progression was something like this:
- This is Broadway, right? But are they rapping? Will they be rapping the entire time?? Should I wait for the rapping to end and the singing to start?
- Are they talking about old-timey stuff? Is this taking place back in the day?
- And why is it called "Hamilton"? Will that become important at some point?? Wait a second -- Hamilton... Like the president?
- If this is Hamilton the president, is this biographical? Or are they placing him into a different narrative setting? Like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Is this going to be some weird thing where Hamilton wants to be a rapper and the whole play is some weird metaphor for federalism...
I quite seriously had absolutely no idea what I was listening to, nor did I know what to listen for in the music to find my bearings.
I eventually broke my friend's heart, writing to her almost a month later on October 30th...
I abandoned hope.
It was too much for me.
Although we never talked about it, I know how much respect she lost for me on that day: a lot.
I've since learned to appreciate Hamilton. She was right.
Between then and now, I was able to answer some critical questions:
- Yes, there's a lot of rapping.
- Yes, it's set back in the day.
- Yes, it's about the "Hamilton" I'm thinking of but, no, he wasn't a president.
- Yes, it's more-or-less a portrayal of his life.
Once I had my bearings, I was able to actually experience the album. It's hard to enjoy something when you don't know what it is[1:1].
Here's the Hamilton Effect, as applied to my experience with Belafonte at Carnegie Hall:
- I couldn't figure out why he was singing a collection of folk songs, categorized by ethnicity;
- I found his King's English to be a bit too precise, which was jarring on its own; and
- The precise King's English also made me wonder about the racial make-up of the audience, and the potential racial politics of his performance at Carnegie Hall, and the general racial climate of that time.
I spent a lot of time thinking about that stuff and writing about it... and then I moved on and started previewing 1961, 1962, etc.
Eventually, after some of those questions fell away, I was able to actually experience the album. Once I found my bearings, I realized the album was actually quite nice and a lot of fun.
So, while it took a while for me to come around, Belafonte at Carnegie Hall is a solid album. He has a great voice and he's quite charming in parts. I'm still not sure why he's singing a collection of folk songs, but once I let go of the "why" and leaned into the experience, everything got much better.