Harold George “Harry” Bellanfanti, Jr. (born March 1, 1927), better known as Harry Belafonte, is an American singer, songwriter, actor, and social activist. One of the most successful Caribbean American pop stars in history, he was dubbed the “King of Calypso” for popularizing the Caribbean musical style with an international audience in the 1950s. His breakthrough album Calypso (1956) is the first million selling album by a single artist. Belafonte is perhaps best known for singing “The Banana Boat Song”, with its signature lyric “Day-O”. He has recorded in many genres, including blues, folk, gospel, show tunes, and American standards. He has also starred in several films, most notably in Otto Preminger’s hit musical Carmen Jones (1954), Island in the Sun (1957) and Robert Wise’s Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).
Belafonte was an early supporter of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and ’60s, and one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s confidants. Throughout his career he has been an advocate for political and humanitarian causes, such as the anti-apartheid movement and USA for Africa. Since 1987 he has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. In recent years he has been a vocal critic of the policies of both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidential administrations. Harry Belafonte now acts as the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.
Harry Belafonte, 1954
Belafonte has won three Grammy Awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award. In 1989 he received the Kennedy Center Honors. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1994. In 2014, he received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Academy’s 6th Annual Governors Awards. In March 2014, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Belafonte was born Harold George Bellanfanti, Jr. at Lying-in Hospital on March 1, 1927, in Harlem, New York, the son of Melvine (née Love), a housekeeper of Jamaican descent, and Harold George Bellanfanti, Sr., a Martiniquan who worked as a chef. His mother was born in Jamaica, the child of a Scottish white mother and a black father. His father also was born in Jamaica, the child of a black mother and Dutch Jewish father of Sephardi origins. This is all Harry says about his Jewish grandfather, whom he never met: “a white Dutch Jew who drifted over to the islands after chasing gold and diamonds, with no luck at all”. From 1932 to 1940, he lived with his grandmother in her native country of Jamaica. When he returned to New York City, he attended George Washington High School[ after which he joined the Navy and served during World War II. In the 1940s, he was working as a janitor’s assistant in NYC when a tenant gave him, as a gratuity, two tickets to see the American Negro Theater. He fell in love with the art form and also met Sidney Poitier. The financially struggling pair regularly purchased a single seat to local plays, trading places in between acts, after informing the other about the progression of the play. At the end of the 1940s, he took classes in acting at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York with the influential German director Erwin Piscator alongside Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur and Sidney Poitier, while performing with the American Negro Theatre. He subsequently received a Tony Award for his participation in the Broadway revue John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.
Harry Belafonte, 1960
Belafonte started his career in music as a club singer in New York to pay for his acting classes. The first time he appeared in front of an audience, he was backed by the Charlie Parker band, which included Charlie Parker himself, Max Roach and Miles Davis, among others. At first he was a pop singer, launching his recording career on the Roost label in 1949, but later he developed a keen interest in folk music, learning material through the Library of Congress’ American folk songs archives. With guitarist and friend Millard Thomas, Belafonte soon made his debut at the legendary jazz club The Village Vanguard. In 1952 he received a contract with RCA Victor. (by wikipedia)
Harry Belafonte’s first album features a solid variety of songs from American folk tradition, learned during his studies of folk music at the Library of Congress in the early 1950s. He had signed with RCA Victor in 1952, recording a series of well-received singles. Belafonte’s new-found love for music of the West Indies can be found in songs such as “Man Piaba” (which he wrote) along with songs from English and Scottish tradition such as “Lord Randall” and “The Drummer & the Cook.” Songs from African-American tradition include the chain gang song “Tol’ My Captain” and the ubiquitous “John Henry.” Mark Twain was a good initial effort, but Belafonte’s repertoire and delivery would get stronger with the next album. (by Cary Ginell)
Dorothy Dandridge & Harry Belafonte in Carmen Jones (1954).
Harry Belafonte (vocals)
Millard Thomas (guitar)
Orchestra and chorus supervised by Hugo Winterhalter
01. Mark Twain (Traditional/Belafonte) 3.42
02. Man Piaba (Belafonte/Rollins) 3.30
03. John Henry (Traditional) 3.27
04. Tol’ My Captain (Campbell) 2.45
06. Kalenda Rock (Mourning Song) (Traditional) 3.22
08. The Drummer And The Cook (Traditional/Campbell) 2.04
09. The Fox (Traditional/Campbell) 2.43
10. Soldier, Soldier (Traditional/Campbell) 1.37
11, The Next Big River (Traditional/Campbell) 0.20
12. Delia (Brooks/Judson) 2.58
“Mo Mary” (Richard Dyer-Bennett) – 2:15
“Lord Randall” (Traditional, Campbell) – 4:07
Paul Campbell was a fictitious entity used to copyright material in the public domain.