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Late Night: Harry Belafonte sings duet with Stephen Colbert

October 18, 2011 |  8:14 am

Stephen Colbert and Harry Belafonte

Legendary singer Harry Belafonte stopped by "The Colbert Report" last night to discuss his new book "My Song," and discuss his lengthy career as an entertainer and activist. 

Colbert asked Belafonte why he used his celebrity to draw attention to progressive causes: "Shouldn't you just be singing 'The Banana Boat Song,' which by the way is one of the finest banana-counting songs ever?"

According to Belafonte, the seemingly nonsensical lyrics of "Day O" were actually steeped with political meaning. "I must tell you that that song has an awful lot to do with the events of the day," he said. "It's a work song, a song about people doing grueling work on a plantation."

Colbert explained that, like Belafonte, he had participated in the March on Washington in 1963: "I was at that in my mother's womb. She was pregnant with me."

"You haven't changed a bit," Belafonte joked. (At 84, his comic timing remains impeccable.)

Colbert pressed Belafonte on why he used his "banana-counting fame" to enact social change. "Why not just be rich and lusted after? That's what I do."

Belafonte replied, "I thought that the community from which I came would be better served if I would focus the light on the people who are not quite as fortunate as we are, and that I had a responsbility to reach into that misfortune and try to make a difference."

The highlight of the interview arrived in the last minute, when Colbert coyly asked Belafonte if he still sings. Belafonte said that he does, but only occasionally. Colbert waited a beat, then quietly started singing Belafonte's hit "Jamaica Farewell." "Down the way where the nights are gay, and the sun shines daily on the mountaintop," he crooned. A few seconds later, Belafonte joined in, and the two performed an unlikely duet. It was a lovely little moment.

Watch below (the singing begins around the 5:00 mark).

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Harry Belafonte
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Photo: Stephen Colbert, left, and Harry Belafonte. Credit: Associated Press.