Good footage is the key to any documentary. And “Sing Your Song” (9 p.m., HBO), a profile of singer and activist Harry Belafonte, is a gold mine of great material. Much like Tony Bennett, Belafonte, 84, is a living, breathing connection to a lost world of popular music.
Belafonte’s career took him from the Broadway stage, jazz interpretation and folk music to sexy interpretations of calypso music and Jamaican folk tunes, most notably, the million-selling “Banana Boat Song” (“Day-O”). Belafonte released “The Banana Boat Song” 55 years ago; it was revived and popularized in “Beetlejuice,” a horror-comedy film nearly a quarter-century old.
Belafonte’s long career as a singer and Hollywood actor would be notable had he sought only commercial success. But his Harlem roots instilled a sense of social justice that would be the hallmark of his public life. While touring with a Broadway show, performing in Las Vegas or even walking in Beverly Hills, Belafonte experienced racism firsthand. And this, too, inspired and provoked him.
So the footage in “Sing Your Song” transitions from clips of the old Steve Allen show to clips of Belafonte marching with Martin Luther King Jr., campaigning for Sen. John F. Kennedy, protesting segregation and the war in Vietnam, and participating in later struggles to end apartheid in South Africa.
Belafonte’s activities attracted attention and what he calls “mischief” from both the FBI and the CIA, as well as from more nefarious groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Mafia.
Filled with interviews of family members, civil rights leaders and contemporaries, “Sing” has no narrator. Belafonte offers most of the observations about his actions and motivations. It’s a heavy burden to bear. At times it seems like he’s describing and praising himself from afar. Or providing his own eulogy. But that’s a small quibble about a film that captures a long and remarkable career.
• “Clean House New York” (7 p.m., Style) scours the city that never sweeps for the messiest Manhattan apartments, the Staten Island slobs, the unclean in Queens and the dust-bunny collectors in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Nina Ferrer and Michael Moeller are your hosts.
• “Sin by Silence” (7 p.m., ID) visits victims of domestic violence, including women prisoners who killed their abusive spouses.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Ten groups perform guilty-pleasure hits on “The Sing-Off” (7 p.m., NBC).
• A renegade “sixer” arrives and sparks fears on “Terra Nova” (7 p.m., Fox).
• “Dancing With the Stars” (7 p.m., ABC) continues.
• “Love That Girl!” (7 p.m., TV One), starring Tatyana Ali, returns for a new season.
• Treating altruism as a disease on “House” (8 p.m., Fox).
• The gang refuses to go quietly in the 2010 sequel “Toy Story 3” (8 p.m., Starz).
• Amy’s job hunt goes badly on “Enlightened” (8:30 p.m., HBO).