Harry Belafonte


Singer
Harry Belafonte

About

Also Known As
Harold George Belafonte Jr.
Birth Place
New York City, New York, USA
Born
March 01, 1927

Biography

Multi-talented actor and musician Harry Belafonte was the first black performer to win an Emmy Award and the first recording artist to sell over a million copies of an album, though he was doubtlessly most proud of his longstanding work as an activist in international fights against racism, violence and world hunger. Belafonte got his start in New York theater, but his sideline as a nigh...

Photos & Videos

Family & Companions

Marguerite Mazique
Wife
Psychologist. Married 1948; divorced; mother of Adrienne and Shari Belafonte.
Julie Robinson
Wife
Married March 8, 1957; mother of David and Gina Belafonte.

Notes

In 1996, Belafonte successfully underwent treatment for prostate cancer.

Was made UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 1987.

Biography

Multi-talented actor and musician Harry Belafonte was the first black performer to win an Emmy Award and the first recording artist to sell over a million copies of an album, though he was doubtlessly most proud of his longstanding work as an activist in international fights against racism, violence and world hunger. Belafonte got his start in New York theater, but his sideline as a nightclub singer propelled his mainstream breakout when his 1954 album Calypso popularized the music of his Jamaican heritage and hit number one on the charts. A respected authority on international folk music and a world-touring performer, Belafonte also enjoyed a career as an actor and producer, where he was involved in important early African-American productions including "Carmen Jones" (1954), in which he starred alongside Dorothy Dandridge, and Lorraine Hansberry's landmark play "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black," which he produced. Whatever the nature of the work, Belafonte's style remained solid - the casual friendliness and warm, jaunty humor were sincere; the fierceness and intensity often surprising.

Harold Belafonte was born in Harlem on March 1, 1927, to a seaman and his Jamaican wife, who worked as a domestic. During his peripatetic childhood, the family was so poor that Belafonte was sent to live in Jamaica, where he bounced around between relatives' homes for five years. He returned as a misfit, a stranger with an unusual accent whose dyslexia made school nearly impossible. He dropped out, spent a year in the Navy during World War II, and returned to Harlem where he held a job as a janitor. One night he attended a performance at the American Negro Theater (ANT), and bitten by the acting bug, he enrolled in classes at Actors Studio and Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research. He financed his new passion by singing pop songs at local nightclubs. Belafonte's career advanced quickly in Harlem's thriving creative atmosphere, and he landed a leading role in the ANT's staging of Sean O'Casey's "Juno and the Paycock" while his gigs at the Royal Roost Nightclub and the Village Vanguard jazz club won him considerable attention. He also hit the small screen as a regular on the short-lived all-black TV revue, "Sugar Hill Times" (CBS, 1949-1950).

In 1952, Belafonte was signed to a recording deal with RCA Records and released his first single, the popular Caribbean classic, "Matilda." The year 1953 was a watershed one for Belafonte, beginning with his Tony Award-winning supporting role in the musical revue "John Murray Anderson's Almanac." He made his film debut in a leading role as a school principal in the minor but likable "Bright Road" opposite Dorothy Dandridge. He and Dandridge re-teamed in "Carmen Jones" (1954), Otto Preminger's striking all-black revamp of the classical opera "Carmen." Belafonte's warm, rich voice, soft with the slightest touch of grit, was not deemed appropriate for the operatic songs in this musical melodrama, so his singing - like most of the cast members - was dubbed. However his own voice received a widespread showcase with the release of the million-selling album, Calypso (1955). Belafonte made his contribution to the post-War craze for exotic cultures with his melodious, danceable and witty (indeed, often satirical) sing-alongs from his beloved Caribbean, including "Jamaica Farewell" and "Banana Boat Song," which opened with the singer's famous field call, "Day-o!"

Belafonte's on-again, off-again acting career kept him busiest in the 1950s, though he faced charges of being "too assimilationist" - much like another black star (and friend) whose rise to stardom paralleled his, Sidney Poitier. Such a claim actually placed far too much weight on Belafonte's relatively light skin and on his considerable popularity. The film "Island in the Sun" (1957), though fairly tame, was somewhat innovative in suggesting an interracial romance between him and Joan Fontaine. He also gave an excellent performance in the intelligent film noir "Odds Against Tomorrow" (1959), as part of a trio of mismatched burglars whose grand scheme g s awry. Perhaps more importantly, he also executive-produced the film. "The World, the Flesh and the Devil" (1959) was explicitly anti-racist and coincided with Belafonte's growing involvement in the Civil Rights movement. He was a close friend of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and used his successful position to help organize and finance efforts to end segregation in the South, where, as his own form of protest, he refused to tour.

In 1959, Belafonte won an Emmy (the first for an African-American performer) for his solo TV special, "Tonight with Belafonte" and gave the first of his now-legendary concerts at Carnegie Hall. His two-night engagement proved so popular that he was invited back to give an encore in 1960. In a performance acclaimed for Belafonte's graciousness in sharing the stage, he introduced such African and African-American talents as Miriam Makeba, Odetta and the Chad Mitchell trio to U.S. listeners. Belafonte received a Grammy Award for the 1960 album Jump Dat Hammer and released the hit albums Jump Up Calypso (1963) and Midnight Special (1962), an album of American folk songs and spirituals featuring then-unknown Bob Dylan on harmonica, but put much of his career on hold to pursue higher callings throughout the remainder of the decade. In 1963, he worked alongside Dr. King to participate in voter registration drives, the interstate Freedom Rides that challenged unconstitutional segregation laws, and helped organize the notorious March on Washington where King gave his historic "I Have a Dream" speech.

Belafonte earned a Grammy in 1965 for the album An Evening with Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba (1965) and teamed up with other female vocalists in television specials, including "Petula" (CBS, 1968) with Petula Clark and "Harry and Lena" (1970), with Lena Horne. He returned to the New York stage to produce Lorraine Hansberry's landmark work "To Be Young, Gifted and Black." In 1970, he played a contrite angel in Jan Kadar's affecting and unusual "The Angel Levine" (1970) and narrated a documentary about his slain friend, "King: A Filmed Record Montgomery to Memphis" (1970). He and Poitier co-starred in the Western "Buck and the Preacher" (1972), and Belafonte was directed by Poitier in "Uptown Saturday Night" (1974), in a take-off of Marlon Brando's "Godfather" characterization. Belafonte released a number of live albums and co-starred in "Grambling's White Tiger" (1981), a TV movie about a white player on the largely black university's famed football team, but activism continued to take center stage in his life's work. Throughout the 1980s, his politically outspoken reputation remained solid when he opposed the U.S. embargo on Cuba, attacked the U.S. invasion of Grenada, and praised Fidel Castro and the Soviet Union's peace initiatives. He became especially vigorous in the fight against apartheid and was instrumental in organizing the vastly successful 1985 supergroup recording, "We Are the World," which raised money for famine relief in Ethiopia.

Named a UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 1987, Belafonte returned to Broadway that same year as producer of "Asinamali!" a play about apartheid. He was honored with a Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989, and in 1990, hosted a three-part PBS music documentary "Routes and Rhythm with Harry Belafonte." He was given the National Medal of Freedom in 1994, and went on to work on behalf of children's causes in Senegal, Rwanda and Kenya, as well as traveled to South Africa on behalf of a HIV/AIDS awareness campaign. After successfully beating prostate cancer in 1996, he added research and education about that disease to his full roster of advocacy pursuits. In the entertainment realm, Belafonte made a much-anticipated return to the big screen in "White Man's Burden" (1995), an intriguing if not wholly successful attempt to reconceptualize America's ongoing race problems, with Belafonte as a racist wealthy man in a society where blacks have the money and the power. He followed up with a turn as a gangster in Robert Altman's period drama "Kansas City" (1996).

In 2001, Belafonte was featured in a documentary about Fidel Castro and earned some press for his outspoken opposition to the George W. Bush administration and the handling of the September 11th attacks. He earned some backlash the following year for characterizing African-American administration officials Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice as slaves who turned their backs on their people for the privilege to serve a master in "the house." After having upheld a steady performing schedule of 70 to 80 shows a year, Belafonte announced his retirement from live performing in 2003. In 2006, he and Danny Glover ruffled a few more political feathers when the pair traveled to Venezuela to show support for controversial president Hugo Chavez. Later in the year, Belafonte had a cameo appearance in "Bobby," Emilio Estevez' chronicle of the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy - a close friend of Belafonte's during his civil rights fights of the 1960s.

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Black Klansman (2018)
I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
Himself
I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
Self
Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin' to Tell You (2013)
Under African Skies (2012)
Himself
Sing Your Song (2011)
Himself
The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011)
King (2008)
Himself
Bobby (2006)
Fidel (2001)
Himself
Swing Vote (1999)
Kansas City (1996)
Seldom Seen
White Man's Burden (1995)
Thaddeus Thomas
Ready to Wear (1994)
Himself
Larry King: JFK Remembered (1993)
The Player (1992)
Himself
We Are The World: The Story Behind The Song (1985)
Himself
First Look (1984)
Narration
Grambling's White Tiger (1981)
Uptown Saturday Night (1974)
Free To Be...You And Me (1974)
Buck and the Preacher (1972)
Preacher [Reverend Willis Oakes Rutherford]
King: A Filmed Record ... Montgomery to Memphis (1970)
The Angel Levine (1970)
Alexander Levine
The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959)
Ralph Burton
Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
[Johnny] Ingram
Island in the Sun (1957)
David Boyeur
The Heart of Show Business (1957)
Carmen Jones (1955)
Joe
Bright Road (1953)
School principal [Mr. Williams]

Producer (Feature Film)

The Affair (1995)
Executive Producer
Beat Street (1984)
Producer
Buck and the Preacher (1972)
Producer

Music (Feature Film)

Paddington 2 (2018)
Song
Beyond the Sea (2004)
Song
Life and Debt (2001)
Song Performer
Suedsee, Eigene Insel (1999)
Song ("Island In The Sun")
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Song
Beetlejuice (1988)
Song Performer
Beat Street (1984)
Music Producer
Beat Street (1984)
Music
Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
Composer
Island in the Sun (1957)
Composer
Bright Road (1953)
Composer

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Under African Skies (2012)
Other
Sing Your Song (2011)
Other
Fidel (2001)
Other
Ready to Wear (1994)
Other
The Player (1992)
Other

Cast (Special)

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
Himself
The Kennedy Center: Mark Twain Prize -- Celebrating Whoopi Goldberg (2001)
Performer
The Nightclub Years (2001)
Interviewee
Quincy Jones: In the Pocket (2001)
Narrator
Stand and Be Counted (2000)
The 10th Annual IFP Gotham Awards (2000)
Performer
The 2000 Essence Awards (2000)
Presenter
Paul Robeson: Here I Stand (1999)
Scandalize My Name, Stories From the Blacklist (1999)
30th NAACP Image Awards (1999)
Performer
Robert F Kennedy: A Memoir (1998)
Martin Luther King, Jr: The Man and the Dream (1998)
Assassinated: The Last Days of King and Kennedy (1998)
Sidney Poitier: The Defiant One (1997)
An Evening With Harry Belafonte & Friends (1997)
Audrey Hepburn: The Fairest Lady (1997)
Interviewee
Robert Altman's Jazz '34 (1997)
Narrator
The GI Bill: The Law That Changed America (1997)
Danny Kaye: A Legacy of Laughter (1996)
Images of Life: Photographs That Changed the World (1996)
The 50th Annual Tony Awards (1996)
Performer
1996 Trumpet Awards (1996)
"We Are the World": A 10th Anniversary Tribute (1995)
Narrator
Hank Aaron: Chasing The Dream (1995)
1995 American Music Awards (1995)
Performer
The World of Jim Henson (1994)
An American Reunion: New Beginnings, Renewed Hope (1993)
The People's Palace: Secrets of the New York Public Library (1992)
AFI Salute to Sidney Poitier (1992)
Host
A Tribute to Harry Chapin (1991)
The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson (1990)
Routes of Rhythm With Harry Belafonte (1990)
Narrator
The Unforgettable Nat "King" Cole (1989)
The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts (1989)
Harry Belafonte: Global Carnival (1989)
Freedomfest: Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday Celebration (1988)
We Shall Overcome (1988)
Narrator
The Television Academy Hall of Fame (1987)
Performer
An All-Star Celebration Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. (1986)
We Are the World: A Year of Giving (1985)
Host
Harry Belafonte: Don't Stop The Carnival (1985)
Marlo Thomas and Friends in Free to Be... You and Me (1974)
The Rowan and Martin Special (1973)
The Diahann Carroll Show (1971)
Tonight With Belafonte (1959)
Host
Three For Tonight (1955)

Producer (Special)

An Evening With Harry Belafonte & Friends (1997)
Executive Producer
Haiti: Killing the Dream (1992)
Producer
Harry Belafonte: Don't Stop The Carnival (1985)
Executive Producer

Music (Special)

An Evening With Harry Belafonte & Friends (1997)
Song Performer
"We Are the World": A 10th Anniversary Tribute (1995)
Song Performer
Harry Belafonte: Global Carnival (1989)
Song Performer ("Matilda" "Jamaica Farewell" "The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)" "The Wave" "Paradise In Gazankulu" "Skin To Skin" "Kwela" "First Annual Global Carnival" "Carnival Medley")
Harry Belafonte: Don't Stop The Carnival (1985)
Song Performer

Misc. Crew (Special)

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
Other

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Tanner on Tanner (2004)
Himself

Life Events

1944

Joined the Navy at age 17; discharged in 1945

1949

TV debut as series regular on CBS black musical revue, "Sugar Hill Times"

1950

Performed as nightclub singer at the Royal Roost and the Village Vanguard in NYC

1953

Appeared on Broadway in "John Murray Anderson's Almanac"

1953

Made film acting debut in a leading role in "Bright Road"

1955

Co-starred with Marge and Gower Champion on the CBS variety special, "Three for Tonight", adapted from their Broadway success

1955

Released first record album, "Calypso"; according to some sources, was the first album in recording history to sell over a million copies

1955

Returned to Broadway to star in "Three for Tonight", a musical review co-starring Marge and Gower Champion

1959

First performed live at Carnegie Hall in concert on April 19 and 20

1959

First solo TV special, "Tonight With Belafonte"

1959

Formed Harbel Productions; first film as executive producer, "Odds Against Tomorrow", directed by Robert Wise; also starred in the film; last feature film role for 11 years

1960

Played a then-record-breaking 14 weeks at the Palace Theater in concert (date approximate)

1965

TV producing debut, "The Strolling '20s"

1969

Off-Broadway stage producing debut, Lorraine Hansberry's "To Be Young, Gifted, and Black"

1969

Began hosting TV specials again with "An Evening with Julie Andrews and Harry Belafonte" and "Harry and Lena" (with Lena Horne)

1970

Returned to feature acting in the title role of "The Angel Levine"

1981

TV-movie acting debut, "Grambling's White Tiger"

1984

Produced a second feature film, the musical "Beat Street"; also supplied additional music and served as music producer; son David also earned a credit for sound recording

1985

Helped bring together 45 performing artists to record the hit single, "We Are the World"; benefits from the song were used to help meet emergency food and health needs in Africa

1985

Hosted the CBS documentary and music special, "We Are the World: A Year of Giving"

1985

First TV producing credit: executive producing the HBO concert special, "Harry Belafonte: Don't Stop the Carnival", in which he also starred

1987

Co-produced the Broadway drama, "Asinamali!", about life in prison in South Africa

1990

Hosted and narrated the three-part PBS documentary miniseries, "Routes of Rhythm with Harry Belafonte", a study of Afro-Cuban music

1995

Executive produced first TV-movie, "The Affair", presented on HBO

1995

First significant feature film acting role in over 20 years, "White Man's Burden"

1996

Co-starred in Altman's "Kansas City"

Photo Collections

Bright Road - Publicity Stills
Bright Road - Publicity Stills
Buck and the Preacher - Movie Poster
Buck and the Preacher - Movie Poster

Videos

Movie Clip

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) - Never Had A Wife Early scene introducing ex-cop Burke (Ed Begley) meeting ex-con Slater (Robert Ryan) whom he has in mind for one last bank job, in the Harry Belafonte-financed Odds Against Tomorrow, 1959, directed by Robert Wise.
Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) - He Dared Me Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) -- (Movie Clip) He Dared Me
Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) - The Invisible Man Financier and de-facto producer Harry Belafonte, singing a song he co-wrote, as musician-gambler "Johnny," interrupted by Coco (Richard Bright), his bookie's henchman, in Odds Against Tomorrow, 1959, directed by Robert Wise.
Bright Road (1953) - I'm Dorothy Dandridge Unorthodox opening from screenwriter Emmet Lavery, working from the original story by African-American schoolteacher and author Mary Elizabeth Vroman, Dorothy Dandridge narrates as herself, introducing co-star Harry Belafonte, ably directed by Gerald Mayer, nephew of the studio boss, in MGM’s Bright Road, 1953.
Bright Road (1953) - I Walked Right Into That One We learn here that new teacher Jane (Dorothy Dandridge) is also the Sunday school teacher, leading a hymn and continuing her internal monologue from the original story by Mary Elizabeth Vroman, getting into trick topics with troubled C.T. (Philip Hepburn), in MGM’s Bright Road, 1953, co-starring Harry Belafonte.
Bright Road (1953) - Suzanne (Ev'ry Night When The Sun Goes Down) New teacher Jane (Dorothy Dandridge) struggling with grades, then a heck of a thing to discover about one’s principal, Harry Belafonte as “Mr. Williams,” with the modernized folk song, never a single but a favorite track from his chart-topping second album (Belafonte, 1955), in MGM’s Bright Road, 1953.
Carmen Jones (1954) - Blow On 'Em Sugar Scene illustrating the considerable heat between Dorothy Dandridge (title character) and Harry Belafonte as Joe, who've fled military justice together to Chicago, in Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones, 1954.
Carmen Jones (1954) - Open, Bizet Overture, Saul Bass Titles The unmistakable overture from Bizet's original opera and notable titles by Saul Bass, opening Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones, 1954, starring Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte and Pearl Bailey.
Buck And The Preacher - I Need A Horse First scent of comedy, in the naked form of "Preacher" (Harry Belafonte), with whom on-the-run Buck (co-star and director Sidney Poitier) intends to trade horses, in Buck And The Preacher, 1972.

Trailer

Family

Harold George Belafonte
Father
Seaman.
Melvine Belafonte
Mother
Domestic. Jamaican.
Adrienne Belafonte
Daughter
Counselor. Born c. 1951; mother Marguerite Belafonte.
Shari Belafonte
Daughter
Actor, singer, model. Born September 22, 1954; motehr Marguerite Belafonte.
David Belafonte
Son
Executive. Runs production company; born c. 1959; mother Julie Robinson.
Gina Belafonte
Daughter
Actor. Born c. 1962; mother Julie Robinson.

Companions

Marguerite Mazique
Wife
Psychologist. Married 1948; divorced; mother of Adrienne and Shari Belafonte.
Julie Robinson
Wife
Married March 8, 1957; mother of David and Gina Belafonte.

Bibliography

Notes

In 1996, Belafonte successfully underwent treatment for prostate cancer.

Was made UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 1987.

Awarded honorary Doctor of the Arts degree from the New School for Social Research in 1968.

Received the Dag Hammerskjold Peace Medal (1981)

Awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Prize (1982)

He was awarded honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Park College (1987)

He has received the honorary Doctorate of Music from Morehouse College (1987)

Awarded honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degree from SUNY, Purchase (1987)

Received the Leader for Peace Award from the Peace Corps (1988)

Received the Nelson Mandela Courage Award given by the Washington DC-based Trans-Africa Forum (1990)

He also received the Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award (1993).