"Day-O, day, day, day, day, day, day, day, day, daaaaay -- ooooo . . ."
Harry Belafonte could be the only singer in musical history whose notoriety is based on two syllables. But there is more to Belafonte than a banana boat song.
His show last night at Wolf Trap, where he will also be appearing tonight, was a stunning display of refined showmanship, allied with a sublime and eclectic musical sensibility. Belafonte's voice, which, after 20 years, still has the quality of velvet hoarseness, glided effortlessly through the songs, while his stage persona assumed guises that were witty, charming and occasionally controversial -- at one point, imitating a fire-and-brimstone religious fundamentalist, he equated the Moral Majority with the devil.
Musically, his performance was an intriguing blend of pop and ethnic idioms. The disjointed rhythms of Caribbean music were interspersed with cool African harmonies and sprightly cadences, and gospel, blues and western pop arrangements, in what amounted to a United Nations of sound.
Backed by a superb instrumental and vocal ensemble, Belafonte held forth with slow, ravishing ballads and exuberant calypso numbers that had the crowd dancing in the seats. And yes, at the very end, he let loose with those immortal, aforementioned, syllables. Everyone "Day-O'd" along.
"Good fortune smiled on me for giving me the opportunity to play at Wolf Trap," he said near the start of the show. As it turned out, good fortune had smiled on everyone in the house.