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Harry Belafonte Biography: Family, Songs, Albums, and Awards

On this day, 20th June, 1960, Harry Belafonte, a well-known African-American singer and actor, received an Emmy Award for his television spectacular, Tonight with Harry Belafonte. Mr. Belafonte was the first African-American to receive this renowned industry honor. He had already received a Tony Award for his performance as a supporting actor in John Murray Anderson’s Almanac in 1954.


Harry Belafonte is an American singer, songwriter, actor, and social activist who was born on March 1, 1927. He was dubbed the “King of Calypso” for popularizing the Caribbean musical style with an international audience in the 1950s as one of the most successful African-American pop performers in history. Calypso (1956), his breakthrough album, was the first million-selling LP by a single artist. Belafonte is perhaps best known for her rendition of “The Banana Boat Song,” which features the iconic lyric “Day-O.”

He has released music in a variety of genres, including blues, folk, gospel, show tunes, and American standards. He also appeared in a number of films, including Otto Preminger’s hit musical Carmen Jones (1954), Island in the Sun (1957), and Robert Wise’s Odds Against Tomorrow.

Harold George Bellanfanti, Jr. was born in Lying-in Hospital in Harlem, New York. He is the son of Melvine (née Love), a Jamaican housekeeper, and Harold George Bellanfanti, Sr., a Martinique chef. Between 1932 to 1940, Belafonte resided in Jamaica with one of his grandmothers. When he returned to New York City, he attended George Washington High School before joining the Navy and serving during WWII. In the 1940s, he was working as a janitor’s assistant in New York City when a tenant gave him two tickets to the American Negro Theater as a gratuity.

By the end of the 1940s, he was taking acting workshops at The New School’s Dramatic Workshop in New York with prominent German director Erwin Piscator, alongside Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur, and Sidney Poitier. He also played in the American Negro Theatre, which earned him a Tony Award for his role in the Broadway musical John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Belafonte was an early supporter of the Civil Rights Movement and a confidant of Martin Luther King, Jr. Throughout his career, he has been a political and humanitarian advocate for causes such as the anti-apartheid campaign and USA for Africa. He has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 1987. Belafonte has been a strong opponent of the actions of both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama governments in recent years. Harry Belafonte is now the American Civil Liberties Union’s celebrity spokesperson on juvenile justice problems.

Belafonte has received three Grammy Awards, including one for Lifetime Achievement, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award. He was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors in 1989. In 1994, he received the National Medal of Arts. At the Academy’s 6th Annual Governors Awards in 2014, he got the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He received an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music in Boston in March 2014.


Written by How Africa News

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