Published : 2013-12-06 19:25
Updated : 2013-12-06 19:25
NEW YORK (AP) ― Heroic in his deeds, graceful in his manner, sainted in his image, Nelson Mandela long served as both cause and muse in the entertainment community.
From the 1960s, when he was a political prisoner and South Africa was under the laws of apartheid, right up to recent times, when the racist laws of the land had fallen and he was among the world‘s most admired people, Mandela inspired concerts, songs, poems, fiction and movies.
Artists were equally drawn to the man and to what he stood for. During the more than quarter-century that Mandela was jailed, his freedom became synonymous with the freedom of his country. Songwriters and poets invoked his name in calling for apartheid’s end and an artistic boycott of South Africa.
“Nelson Mandela is, for me, the single statesman in the world,” Nobel laureate Toni Morrison once observed. “The single statesman, in that literal sense, who is not solving all his problems with guns. It‘s truly unbelievable.”
Elizabeth Alexander, who read the inaugural poem at the swearing-in of President Obama in 2009, had years earlier written “A Poem for Nelson Mandela,” which featured the lines: “Nelson Mandela is with me because I believe/in symbols; symbols bear power; symbols demand/power; and that is how a nation/follows a man who leads from prison/and cannot speak to them.”
It took some daring to support Mandela during his prison years, when Mandela and the political movement he led, the African National Congress, were on international terrorist lists and opinions about him often divided between liberals and conservatives.
As late as 1988, just two years before his release, an all-star concert held to celebrate his 70th birthday was censored on British television to remove political content.
But just as South Africa managed a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy, Mandela evolved from opposition leader to head of state to sage with remarkably little damage; he only seemed to gain admirers.
Over the last decade of his life, Mandela presided over a series of “46664” concerts in South Africa, named for Mandela’s prison number (466) and the year he was jailed, 1964.