Born March 1, 1927, Harry Belafonte is one of the leading lights of American cinema and music. Born to a working class family with roots in the islands of Martinique and Jamaica, Belafonte joined the U.S. Navy during the second World War. After being discharged, he came to work as a janitor’s assistant, where he developed a lifelong love of and engagement with theatre. He took courses at the renowned New School, alongside other budding actors, in the late 1940s. His participation in a well-received play on Broadway resulted in him winning a Tony Award.
In 1952, Belafonte’s singing won him a contract with RCA Victor. His introduction of Jamaican and Trinidadian calypso songs to a mass audience topped the charts and endeared him to the hearts of millions of Americans. He also began to appear on television and in movies in the 1950s as well, starring alongside Dorothy Dandridge in Bright Road (1953) and Carmen Jones (1954). His popularity in music waned throughout the 1960s with the advent of groups such as The Beatles, The Who, and the Temptations, but he was still a go-to favorite for many who enjoyed his smooth voice and style.
Belafonte wasn’t just an actor and musician. He was also an outspoken political activist, heavily influenced by his role model, Paul Robeson. He had links with several left-wing political activists and leaders, and financially supported Martin Luther King’s family, along with other civil rights freedom fighters who were not able to obtain conventional jobs due to being blacklisted or harassed. Belafonte refused to perform in the South for almost 10 years, financed the Freedom Rides, raised and donated money to various causes, and generally served as a tenacious comrade and ally.
He continues to actively criticize U.S. foreign policy from the left, attacking both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. In the past, he criticized the American invasion of Grenada and embargo of Cuba, praised the Soviet Union, and was also extremely active in the anti-Apartheid movement. Harry Belafonte is an excellent example of the artist in service to the people of the whole world.
Harry Belafonte on Bush, Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and Having His Conversations with Martin Luther King Wiretapped by the FBI.
Harry Belafonte (Biography)
Harry Belafonte: Out of Struggle, A Beautiful Voice
Harry Belafonte: Sing Your Song