Harry Belafonte’s 1962 performance of “Muleskinner” is among the latest clips to be shared from the annals of The Ed Sullivan Show. The official YouTube channel of the famous series, which ran for 24 seasons between 1948 and 1971, continues to offer remarkable moments in the show’s history.
The black and white clip features Belafonte, then aged 35, on the April 22, 1962 edition of Sullivan, by which time the Harlem-born son of Jamaican and West Indian parentage was some years from his hit singles period of the 1950s.
After his 1957 signature “Banana Boat (Day-O)” and other successes including “Mary’s Boy Child” and “Mama Look at Bubu,” Belafonte remained a frequent visitor to the US LP charts. “Muleskinner” was included on his 1962 album The Midnight Special, which reached No.8 on the Billboard listings. The long player is especially notable for containing the first officially released recording by Bob Dylan, who played harmonica on the title song.
“Muleskinner” was also known as “Blue Yodel No.8 (Mule Skinner Blues),” co-written and first recorded by Jimmie Rodgers in the early 1930s. Early versions by the likes of Gene Autry, Roy Acuff and His Smoky Mountain Boys, and Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys kept the song in the country vein.
It hit the folk and pop markets in versions by Pete Seeger, Lonnie Donegan and many others. Donegan revisited it with Van Morrison and Chris Barber on the 2000 live album The Skiffle Sessions. Morrison had cut it on the 1997 album The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers; earlier recordings included those by José Feliciano and Don McLean.
Belafonte had already starred on the Sullivan Show several times during his initial fame of the 1950s. His appearance in the 1962 program, in what was the 15th season of the show, came on an edition that also featured South African folk favorite Miriam Makeba and actress Thelma Lee.
See more from the archives of The Ed Sullivan Show on the official YouTube channel.