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 drawings for The Belafonte Folk Song Book, published by Consolidated Music Publishers, Inc., 1962, and this publication from the same year, Songs Belafonte Sings, Duell, Sloan and Pearce/Meredith Press.
Songs Belafonte Sings revealed Belafonte's uncommon love and respect for the folk music of the world, alongside folk music of African Americans and folk music of the Caribbean. The publication was very similar to The Belafonte Folk Song Book, and both used a similar Foreword by Belafonte, which 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, in Songs Belafonte Sings:
The book is done in categories in an effort to draw from several areas of my own performances and experiences. The Negro section is of course because of my own, personal heritage. I am a Negro, and I was born in New York City, March 1, 1927, and I 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 pages are the songs about me and my feelings and my Negroness.
This was a substantial publication, with 40 songs divided into three sections. Part One, AROUND THE WORLD, Part Two, THE AMERICAN NEGRO, Part Three, THE WEST INDIES. Charles White contributed a number of drawings to Songs Belafonte Sings, including several full page reproductions, including Folk Singer, Ink, 1957, Collection of Harry Belafonte. Most of White's drawings in Songs Belafonte Sings were skilled renderings of people, drawn with lines that captured movement, gesture, the dignity of working people, and the exceptional, uncommon and remarkable qualities of folk music and dance. A number of these line drawings were full page, and though none of the works in Songs Belafonte Sings were titled, several such drawings were included in the 1967 publication, Images of Dignity and appeared with the generic titles Songs Belafonte Sings. It should be noted however, that in Images of Dignity, these drawings had dates of 1963-64