Harry Belafonte and Charles White maintained a longstanding friendship and the singer/civil rights activist owned several of White signature works, including 'Song', a depiction of a singing guitarist. Belafonte had owned the work since at least as early as the mid 1950s, and it appeared in the background of a portrait of the singer and his wife, Julie Robinson, used on the cover of Ebony magazine, July 1957. White had provided illustrations for several Belafonte-related publications, an early involvement coming in 1962 when White provided four drawings (one appearing on two different pages) for The Belafonte Folk Song Book, published by Consolidated Music Publishers, Inc., 1962.
The publication consisted of 22 folk songs arranged for voice, piano, & guitar with lyrics. In addition to the music, Harry Belafonte provided commentary about each of the songs: • Angelique-o • Bald-Headed Woman • Bamotsweri • Brown-Skin Gal • Cotton Fields • Cu Cu Ru Cu Cu Paloma • Day-O • Don't Ever Love Me • Go Down, Ol' Hannah • I'm Goin' Away • In The Evenin' Mama • It's The Same The Whole World Over • Jamaica Farewell • John Henry • Judy Drownded • Jump Down, Spin Around • Kingston Market • Marching Saints • Matilda • Michael Row The Boat Ashore • My Lord, What A Mornin' • Scratch, Scratch
The "Foreword", written by Belafonte and dated Spring 1962, contained numerous perceptive, enlightening and stimulating comments on the significance of folk music. Extract as follows:
The popular songs of the day that are being written in an industrialized society such as that of the United States of America are, in fact, the songs that are being sung by most people in the streets and the factories. Two hundred years from now, if we were to view the music of this period, we would have to say that the folk music of the twentieth century is in fact mostly written by the people in Tin Pan Alley and by the Broadway music writers.
But fortunately we don't have to put the definitions before the melodies. And many of us who are involved in the folk art are attracted to the songs that I might dare to call the traditional songs - songs that in most instances preceded the Industrial Revolution.
These songs came out of a period of history that did not have microphones, telephones, radios, stere, the frightening array of electronic devices we use for communication today. The only way people had to communicate with each other was on a face-to-face basis. And as for musical entertainment, they made their own. They sang the songs they knew. They are called "folk songs" because a lot of folk just got together and sang. They sang at their square dances. they sang in their churches. They sang while working in the fields. They did the singing. Today, in the twentieth century, most of the singing is done for us. We push the button, turn the knob, and listen to everybody else do it. The folk art today - the art of folk getting together - has been somewhat short circuited. In an effort to get closer to the "art" in the folk art, we retreat gratefully to the period before the Industrial Revolution when the music was richer, the language beautiful and rugged, when people put themselves into their songs.
This was a highly engaging text, part autobiographical, part homage to the folk cultures of the world, part recognition of the importance of his ethnicity. Elsewhere in the "Foreword", Belafonte continued:
The book is an effort to draw from several areas of my own performances and experiences. The Negro songs are of course because of my own personal heritage. I am a Negro, and I was born in New York City, March 1, 1927, and grew up in the street in the early years. I was always aware of my Negroness, and I have a great pride in it; I have a great deal of joy with it. There is also a great deal of pain with it. And the songs that will be unfolded in these next few pages are the songs about me and my feelings and my Negroness.
There was room in the collection for "Bamotsweri", which Belafonte described as "A powerful South African song of protest coming from a people feeling strongly, deeply, about a system that has made them pariahs in their native land. This song has a terrible, bright beauty. I heard it first from my close friend, Miriam Makeba. With her Africaness and her great dignity and integrity as a human being and as an artist, she has been one of the profound artistic experiences of my life."
White's drawings were for the most part highly skilled renderings of people, drawn with lines that captured movement and gesture.