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Belafonte, Harry

Harry Belafonte

1937—

Singer, actor, activist

It has been said that in the life and work of entertainer Harry Belafonte, the worlds of music and morality do not collide, but balance harmoniously. In the 1950s Belafonte introduced the colorful, bouncy melodies of calypso music to the United States, and American listeners began swaying to the jaunty Caribbean beat and singing "Day-O" along with the masterful crooner. Since that time, Belafonte has used his visibility as an entertainer to cast a political spotlight on humanitarian causes ranging from world hunger to civil rights to the plight of children in the third world. Belafonte's accomplishments, and the awards bestowed on him in the spheres of entertainment and activism, show a man equally committed to musical excellence and political virtuousness.

Known as the "consummate entertainer," Belafonte was born in New York City in 1927. His parents were West Indian, and he moved with his mother to her native Jamaica when he was a child. In the five years he spent on the island, he not only absorbed the music that was such a vital part of the culture but also observed the effects of colonialism, the political oppression that native Jamaicans had to endure under British rule. "That environment gave me much of my sense of the world at large and what I wanted to do with it," Belafonte was quoted as saying in the Paul Masson Summer Series. "It helped me carve out a tremendous link to other nations that reflect a similar temperament or character."

Was Fascinated by Acting and Singing

Once back in Harlem, another culturally and artistically rich environment, Belafonte became street smart, learning the hard lessons of survival in the big city. When the United States entered World War II, he ended his high school education and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After an honorable discharge, he returned to New York City, where he bounced between odd jobs. His first foray into the world of entertainment came in the late 1940s, when he was given two tickets to a production of the American Negro Theater. He was hooked after one performance. "I was absolutely mes merized by that experience," he told the Ottawa Citizen in 1990. "It was really a spiritual, mystical feeling I had that night. I went backstage to see if there was anything I could do."

His first leading role with the company was in Irish playwright Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock. Impressed by the power and message of O'Casey's words, and by the promise of theater in general, Belafonte enrolled in the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research, studying under famous German director Erwin Piscator, whose other students included renowned actors Rod Steiger and Beatrice Arthur.

Belafonte was concerned about the scarcity of work for African-American actors but got a break when, as a class project, he sang an original composition called "Recognition." His audience was spellbound. Among the listeners was the owner of the Royal Roost Nightclub, a well-known Broadway jazz center. Belafonte was offered a two-week stint that, due to such positive reception, blossomed into a twenty-week engagement. At the Roost and later at other clubs, such as the Village Vanguard in New York City's Greenwich Village, Belafonte charmed audiences with his husky-yet-sweet-voiced adaptations of popular and West Indian folk songs.

Recognized Nationally for Acting and Singing

In 1949 Belafonte was approached by representatives of Jubilee Records. Armed with a recording contract and the praise of critics, this bright new talent started making his mark. He first appeared on Broadway in John Murray Anderson's Almanac, for which he won a Tony Award. In the 1954 film Carmen Jones, based on French composer Georges Bizet's opera Carmen, Belafonte played the lead role and endeared himself to a national audience. Throughout the next few decades, he continued to act in films such as Island in the Sun and Uptown Saturday Night and produced television programs such as A Time for Laughter, in which he introduced U.S. audiences to then nationally unknown humorists Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx.

It was in 1956, with the release of his album Calypso, that Belafonte sealed his status as a superstar and consummated America's love affair with Caribbean music. His most famous recordings, "Banana Boat Song" (popularly known as "Day-O") and "Matilda," recall the melodies, rhythm, and spirit of Jamaica and other West Indian cultures. Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Belafonte reached into the lore and music of other cultures, most notably those of South America and Africa. He also continued with his celebrated interpretations of American folk ballads and spirituals, but he has always been most closely associated with the zest and spunk of calypso.

Belafonte's Calypso was the first album to sell more than one million copies, a benchmark that led to the establishment of the Grammy Awards. The album was only one of many illustrious firsts in Belafonte's life. He was the African-American man to win an Emmy Award as well as the first African American to work as a television producer. He was also the first entertainer—African American or white—to be named cultural advisor to the Peace Corps by U.S. president John F. Kennedy.

At a Glance …

Born Harold George Belafonte Jr. on March 1, 1927, in New York, NY; son of Harold George and Melvine Love; married Marguerite Byrd, 1948 (divorced); married Julie Robinson, 1957; children: (with Byrd) Adrienne, Shari; (with Robinson) David, Gina. Education: Attended Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research, studying under Erwin Piscator.

Career: Acted in various theater, movie, and television productions, late 1940s—; helped organize We Are the World recording session, 1985; named cultural advisor to the Peace Corps by President John F. Kennedy; Southern Christian Leadership Conference, member of the board of directors; Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Fund, chair; appointed UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, 1987.

Awards: Tony Award, 1953; Emmy Award, 1960; Grammy Award, 1985; U.S. Committee for UNICEF, Danny Kaye Award, 1989; National Medal of the Arts, 1994; Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, 2000; Black Entertainment Television's Humanitarian Award, 2006.

Addresses: Office—Belafonte Enterprises Inc., 830 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019.

Belafonte's success on vinyl and tape has always translated well in his live concerts, where he uses sing-alongs, dialogue with audience members, and a contagious energy and excitement to get the crowds responding jubilantly. Dave Hoekstra wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times in 1990 that Belafonte "sings from discovery and fulfillment…. So when you listen to the Belafonte songbook on a perfect summer night, you know the dignity, poise and spiritual exploration will still be heard long after the voice has passed. That is Harry Belafonte's lasting contribution to American popular music."

Merged Political Activism with Performing Career

As a young boy keenly aware of British domination over the lives of Jamaicans, Belafonte learned a lasting lesson about the power of art in general, and song in particular, to express and shed personal meaning on the physical, psychological, and cultural constraints generated by colonialism. "People living in that sort of oppression are always very creative," he was quoted as saying in the Summer Series magazine. "The environment was terribly musical. People sang while working in the fields, while selling their wares in the streets, in church, during festivals. That background had a great impact on me."

Even though he would always believe that music should be a cherished vehicle for commentary on the human condition, Belafonte recognized in the 1960s that song alone, no matter how politically and moralistically charged, would not right the wrongs suffered by society's disenfranchised people. Taking advantage of the fame garnered from his music and theater successes, Belafonte donned the cape of activist and quickly earned the respect of those who might have worried that he was simply an entertainer dabbling self-servingly in politics.

After World War II, in which he was first exposed to what he viewed as an honorable fight waged on moral grounds, Belafonte found political mentors and ideological inspiration in former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and actor and singer Paul Robeson. He saw in Roosevelt an irrepressible dedication to human rights and the courage to take stands with which mainstream America might have disagreed. Robeson, a trailblazing, African-American entertainer, was an early campaigner against racial segregation and had been blacklisted by the U.S. government for his pro-communist beliefs. Of Roosevelt and Robeson, Belafonte was quoted as saying in the Ottawa Citizen, "Both taught me by example to be resilient and fight for things I believed in even if it could get me into trouble."

Throughout the 1960s, Belafonte's primary ethical focus was on the Jim Crow laws of segregation. He unified cultural elements behind the civil rights marches in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, and helped organize the celebrated 1963 Freedom March in Washington, DC, at which his close friend, Martin Luther King Jr., delivered the historic "I Have a Dream" speech. Years earlier, Belafonte had been forced to stop a South Carolina performance at intermission because of rumors that the Ku Klux Klan was intending a violent demonstration. But in viewing the development of American society and the evolution of the civil rights struggle, Belafonte has come to realize that the racism he and others have long decried is evident throughout society's cultural mosaic and not merely in the Klan's vicious epithets and signature white sheets. "There's a lot of racial tension coming out of our communities," he told Summer Series magazine. "There's a tremendous amount of crack and dope in black neighborhoods, which I think is an extension of racial inequalities. Racism has become more insidious, sometimes more clandestine, sometimes more blatant, as in the case of the Skin heads and others who represent the new wave of white, lower-middle-class people who have come together to preach racial violence. It's quite unnerving."

In 1966 Belafonte performed in Paris, France, and Stockholm, Sweden, in the first European-sponsored benefit concert on behalf of King. As a result of his efforts to fight segregation and racism, he was appointed to the board of directors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading civil rights organization, served as chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Fund, and was named one of the three executors of the King estate after the celebrated leader was assassinated in 1968.

Focused Political Activism on International Issues

In recent years, Belafonte has used his celebrity to draw attention to civil rights issues and injustices on a global scale, particularly in respect to children suffering from malnutrition and sickness. In 1985 Belafonte, with friend Ken Kragen, organized the hugely successful and inspirational We Are the World, which won a Grammy Award, and more important for Belafonte, raised millions of dollars for and heightened an awareness of victims of famine and drought in Africa. An outgrowth of that record was the USA for Africa Foundation, on whose board of directors Belafonte has served with, among others, Lionel Richie, Quincy Jones, and Kenny Rogers. Belafonte was also deeply involved in Hands Across America, an outgrowth organization benefiting hungry and homeless Americans.

In 1987 Belafonte was appointed UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, only the second American ever to hold the title. His first humanitarian odyssey in that position brought him to Dakar, Senegal, where he served as head of a four-day symposium in which African intellectuals and artists strove to publicize and consider solutions to the variegated problems besetting children on that continent. His commitment to the survival and health of third-world children led Ebony magazine to dub him "The Children's Patron Saint" and a "prime minister of hope," and earned him the 1989 Danny Kaye Award by the U.S. Committee for UNICEF. Vigorously pursuing a UNICEF drive to immunize children in developing counties, Belafonte has been called on frequently to testify before congressional committees. Through a fund bearing his name, Belafonte has opened new cultural exchanges with African nations, enabling African students to pursue an education in the United States.

As an outspoken critic of South Africa's apartheid government, Belafonte orchestrated a burst of artistic, if not political, liberation with the 1988 release of his critically acclaimed album Paradise in Gazankulu. Because of his arrest years earlier during an antiapartheid protest outside the South African embassy in Washington, DC, his advocacy of strict international economic sanctions, and his repeated calls for the release of then imprisoned African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, Belafonte was considered a persona non grata—unaccepted or unwelcomed—in South Africa and could not go to that country to work on the album. Instead, musicians recorded the music there and the tapes were sent to the United States, where Belafonte added the vocals. Though banned on South African radio, Paradise was praised internationally for beautifully capturing in music the painful and haunting stories and poems describing life in a land infamous for its oppression.

In 1989 Belafonte was one of the recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement in the performing arts, arguably the most prestigious award given to artists by the U.S. government. "I couldn't help thinking how much of my life had been spent at odds with these people, with the establishment, and here they were honoring me," he was quoted as telling the Ottawa Citizen. "I've been critical of government actions and I will continue to be critical, and here I was being recognized for my accomplishments. It made me fall in love with America all over again."

Belafonte was a host for the World Summit for Children, which was held in September of 1990 at the United Nations (UN), where world leaders and social workers met to discuss and debate the current state of children's issues. Leaders of the summit produced the World Declaration for the Survival, Protection, and Development of Children, a document that codified the goals of UN members toward protecting children's rights across the globe. The effects of the World Summit translated into direct legislative efforts in many countries to enhance legal and social services for children.

In 1994 he received the National Medal of the Arts for his lifetime achievements in both film and music. He continued performing and acting throughout the 1990s, often winning critical acclaim for his performances. In 1995 he appeared in the racial drama White Man's Burden; he also appeared in the 1996 Robert Altman film Kansas City, in which he portrayed "Seldom Seen," the head of a criminal organization in Altman's stylized homage to Kansas City's underworld of the 1930s. In 2000 Belafonte was honored with a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement.

Became a Vocal Critic of Bush Administration

After the election of George W. Bush in 1999, Belafonte emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of the Bush administration. In a 2002 interview with San Diego radio station KFMB-AM, Belafonte likened Secretary of State Colin Powell to a "house slave," who had been allowed entrance to his "master's" house but was still beholden to his master's bidding. Belafonte's remarks brought sharp criticism from both the White House and supporters of the Bush administration, who dismissed Belafonte as a "celebrity liberal" whose accusations were uninformed. The incident elevated Belafonte's activism to the national stage as both Belafonte and Powell were asked to comment on a number of television and radio programs. Belafonte refused to apologize for his characterization of Powell and expanded his criticisms to other African Americans in the administration.

In 2006 Belafonte joined a group of activists and scholars that met with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to discuss Chavez's leadership, the state of democracy in Venezuela, and the Bush administration's opposition to Chavez's government. In interviews given during the meeting, Belafonte defended the "socialist revolution" in Venezuela and characterized Bush as a "tyrant" and "terrorist," who was attempting to portray Chavez as a dictator for political benefit.

Despite the controversy surrounding his political activities, Belafonte's activism continued to win him praise from within the African-American community. In 2006 Belafonte was honored by Black Entertainment Television with the Humanitarian Award for his passionate and multifaceted services to African Americans. When he accepted the award, E! Online quoted him as saying, "This award doesn't just touch vanity. It is a validation of what I stand for, what Paul Robeson stood for. It's a validation of what W.E.B. Dubois stood for, what Malcolm X and Dr. King stood for."

Selected discography

Albums

Mark Twain, RCA, 1954.

Calypso (includes "Banana Boat Song"), RCA, 1956.

Belafonte (includes "Matilda"), RCA, 1956.

Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall, RCA, 1960.

To Wish You a Merry Christmas, RCA, 1962.

Homeward Bound, RCA, 1970.

Paradise in Gazankulu, EMI, 1988.

Harry Belafonte: All Time Greatest Hits, RCA, 1988, volumes 2 and 3, 1989.

Belafonte '89, EMI, 1989.

Belafonte '89 (abridged version), EMI, 1990.

Sources

Books

Fogelson, Genia, Harry Belafonte, Holloway, 1980.

Periodicals

Chicago Sun-Times, July 27, 1990.

Chicago Tribune, July 26, 1990.

Ebony, September 1988.

Fun and Gaming, March 1, 1990.

New York Times, March 21, 2006.

Ottawa Citizen, January 13, 1990.

Paul Masson Summer Series, June 1989.

Online

"Belafonte: Bush ‘Greatest Terrorist in the World.’" MSNBC Online,http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10767465/ (accessed December 18, 2007).

"Belafonte Won't Back down from Powell Slave Reference," CNN Online,http://archives.cnn.com/2002/US/10/15/belafonte.powell/ (accessed December 18, 2007).

Finn, Natalie, "BETs for Blige, West, Foxx and Brown," E! Online, http://www.eonline.com/news/article/index.jsp?uuid_7f8be5bf-0d96-4a87-abb5-8361c90d9e8e&entry_index (accessed December 18, 2007).

"Powell, Rice Accused of Toeing the Line," Fox News Online,http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,66288,00.html (accessed December 18, 2007).

Other

Additional information obtained from a 1991 Belafonte Enterprises Inc. biography.

—Isaac Rosen and Micah L. Issit

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Belafonte, Harry 1927–

Harry Belafonte 1927

Singer, actor, activist

At a Glance

Voice Captivated First Audience

Career Soared With Calypso

Dedicated to Humanitarian Causes

Social Activism Continued

Protested Through Music

Selected discography

Sources

It has been said that in the life and work of entertainer Harry Belafonte, the worlds of music and morality do not collide, but rather balance harmoniously. In the 1950s Belafonte introduced the colorful, bouncy melodies of calypso music to the United States, and American listeners began swaying to the jaunty Caribbean beat and singing Day-O along with the masterful crooner. Since that time Belafonte has used his visibility as an entertainer to cast a political spotlight on humanitarian causes ranging from world hunger to civil rights to the plight of children in the Third World. Belafontes accomplishments, and the awards bestowed on him in the spheres of entertainment and activism, show a man equally committed to musical excellence and political virtuousness.

Known as the consummate entertainer, Belafonte was born in Harlem, New York, in 1927. His parents were West Indian, and he moved with his mother to her native Jamaica when he was a child. In the five years he spent on the island he not only absorbed the music that was such a vital part of the culture but also observed the effects of colonialism, the political oppression that native Jamaicans had to endure under British rule. That environment gave me much of my sense of the world at large and what I wanted to do with it, Belafonte was quoted as saying in the Paul Masson Summer Series.It helped me carve out a tremendous link to other nations that reflect a similar temperament or character.

Once back in Harlem, another culturally and artistically rich environment, Belafonte became street smart, learning the hard lessons of survival in the big city. When the United States entered World War II, he ended his high school education and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After an honorable discharge he returned to New York City, where he bounced between odd jobs. His first foray into the world of entertainment came in the late 1940s when he was given two tickets to a production of the American Negro Theater. He was hooked after one performance. I was absolutely mesmerized by that experience, he told the Ottawa Citizen in 1990. It was really a spiritual, mystical feeling I had that night. I went backstage to see if there was anything I could do. His first leading role with the company was in Irish playwright Sean OCaseys Juno and the Paycock. Impressed by the power and message of OCaseys words, and by the promise of theater in general, Belafonte enrolled in the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research, studying under famous German director Erwin

At a Glance

Born Harold George Belafonte, Jr., March 1,1927, in New York, NY; son of Harold George and Melvine (Love) Belafonte; married, 1948; wifes name Marguerite (divorced); married Julie Robinson (a dancer), March 8, 1957; children: Adrienne, Shari, David, Gina. Education: Attended Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research, studying under Erwin Piscator.

Singer, actor, producer, political activist. Joined the American Negro Theater, late 1940s, appearing in Juno and the Paycock; performed at such clubs as the Royal Roost Nightclub and the Village Vanguard, New York City, late 1940s and early 1950s; appeared on Broadway in John Murray Andersons Almanac,1953; appeared in television adaptation of Carmen Jones,1955; released Calypso,1956; appeared in films, including Island in the Sun,1957, Uptown Saturday Night,1974, First Look,1984, and The Player,1992; produced television program A Time for Laughter,1967; helped organize We Are the World recording session, 1985. Named cultural adviser to the Peace Corps by President John F. Kennedy; named member of the board of directors, Southern Christian Leadership Conference; chair of Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Fund; appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, 1987. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1943-45.

Selected awards: Tony Award for best supporting actor, 1953, for John Murray Andersons Almanac; Emmy Award, 1960, for Tonight With Harry Belafonte; Grammy Award, 1985, for We Are the World; Danny Kaye Award, U.S. Committee for UNICEF, 1989.

Addresses: Office Belafonte Enterprises inc., 830 8th Ave., New York, NY 10019.

Piscator, whose other students included renowned actors Rod Steiger and Beatrice Arthur.

Voice Captivated First Audience

Belafonte was concerned about the scarcity of work for black actors but got a break when, as a class project, he sang an original composition called Recognition. His audience was spellbound. Among the listeners was the owner of the Royal Roost Nightclub, a well-known Broadway jazz center. Belafonte was offered a two-week stint that, due to such positive reception, blossomed into a twenty-week engagement. At the Roost and later at other clubs, such as the Village Vanguard in New York Citys Greenwich Village, Belafonte charmed audiences with his husky-yet-sweet-voiced adaptations of popular and West Indian folk songs.

Armed with a recording contract with Capital Records and the praise of critics, this bright new talent started making his mark. He first appeared on Broadway in John Murray Andersons Almanac, for which he won a Tony Award. In the 1954 film Carmen Jones, based on French composer Georges Bizets opera Carmen, Belafonte played the lead role and endeared himself to a national audience. Throughout the next few decades he continued to act in films such as Island in the Sun and Uptown Saturday Night and produced television programs such as A Time for Laughter, in which he introduced U.S. audiences to then nationally unknown humorists Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx.

Career Soared With Calypso

It was in 1956, with the release of his album Calypso, that Belafonte sealed his status as a superstar and consummated Americas love affair with Caribbean music. His most famous recordings, Banana Boat Song (popularly known as Day-O) and Matilda, recall the melodies, rhythm, and spirit of Jamaica and other West Indian cultures. Throughout the sixties, seventies, and eighties, Belafonte reached into the lore and music of other cultures, most notably those of South America and Africa. He also continued with his celebrated interpretations of American folk ballads and spirituals, but he has always been most closely associated with the zest and spunk of calypso.

Belafontes Calypso was the first album to sell more than one million copies, a benchmark that led to the establishment of the Grammy Awards. The album was only one of many illustrious firsts in Belafontes life. He was the first black man to win an Emmy Award as well as the first black to work as a television producer. Belafonte was also the first entertainerblack or whiteto be named cultural adviser to the Peace Corps by U.S. president John F. Kennedy.

Belafontes success on vinyl and tape has always translated well in his live concerts, where he uses sing-alongs, dialogue with audience members, and a contagious energy and excitement to get the crowds responding jubilantly. Dave Hoekstra wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times in 1990 that Belafonte sings from discovery and fulfillment.... So when you listen to the Belafonte songbook on a perfect summer night, you know the dignity, poise and spiritual exploration will still be heard long after the voice has passed. That is Harry Belafontes lasting contribution to American popular music.

Dedicated to Humanitarian Causes

While his accomplishments in music are considered groundbreaking, Belafontes political activities on behalf of humanitarian causes around the world are also extremely significant. And more often than not he has been able to successfully merge these two passions. In 1985 Belafonte helped organize the recording session for the philanthropic and inspirational We Are the World, which won a Grammy Award, and he has been involved in many projects aimed at helping those suffering from poverty, homelessness, and famine around the world. As a result of his efforts to fight segregation in the United States, Belafonte was named to the board of directors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading civil rights organization, and he has been chair of the memorial fund bearing the name of his friend, the late civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1987 he was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and he has been dubbed the Childrens Patron Saint by Ebony magazine.

As a young boy keenly aware of British domination over the lives of Jamaicans, Belafonte learned a lasting lesson about the power of art in general, and song in particular, to express and shed personal meaning on the physical, psychological, and cultural constraints generated by colonialism. People living in that sort of oppression are always very creative, he was quoted as saying in the Summer Series magazine. The environment was terribly musical. People sang while working in the fields, while selling their wares in the streets, in church, during festivals. That background had a great impact on me.

Although he would always believe that music should be a cherished vehicle for commentary on the human condition, Belafonte recognized in the 1960s that song alone, no matter how politically and moralistically charged, would not right the wrongs suffered by societys disenfranchised people. Taking advantage of the fame garnered from his music and theater successes, Belafonte donned the cape of activist and quickly earned the respect of those who might have worried that he was simply an entertainer dabbling self-servingly in politics.

After World War II, in which he was first exposed to what he viewed as an honorable fight waged on moral grounds, Belafonte found political mentors and ideological inspiration in former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and actor and singer Paul Robeson. He saw in Roosevelt an irrepressible dedication to human rights and the courage to take stands with which mainstream America might have disagreed. Robeson, a trailblazing, black entertainer, was an early campaigner against racial segregation and had been blacklisted by the U.S. government for his pro-Communist beliefs. Of Roosevelt and Robeson, Belafonte was quoted as saying in the Ottawa Citizen, Both taught me by example to be resilient and fight for things I believed in even if it could get me into trouble.

Social Activism Continued

Throughout the 1960s Belafontes primary ethical focus was on the Jim Crow laws of segregation. He unified cultural elements behind the civil rights marches in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, and helped organize the celebrated 1963 Freedom March in Washington, D.C., at which his close friend, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic I Have a Dream speech. Years earlier, Belafonte had been forced to stop a South Carolina performance at intermission because of rumors that the Ku Klux Klan was intending a violent demonstration. But in viewing the development of American society and the evolution of the civil rights struggle, Belafonte has come to realize that the racism he and others have long decried is evident throughout societys cultural mosaic and not merely in the Klans vicious epithets and signature white sheets. Theres a lot of racial tension coming out of our communities, he was quoted as saying in the Summer Series magazine. Theres a tremendous amount of crack and dope in black neighborhoods, which I think is an extension of racial inequalities. Racism has become more insidious, sometimes more clandestine, sometimes more blatant, as in the case of the Skin heads and others who represent the new wave of white, lower-middle-class people who have come together to preach racial violence. Its quite unnerving.

In 1966, Belafonte performed in Paris, France and Stockholm, Sweden in the first European-sponsored benefit concert on behalf of King. As a result of his efforts to fight segregation and racism, he was appointed to the board of directors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading civil rights organization, served as chairman of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Fund, and was named one of the three executors of the King estate after the celebrated leader was assassinated in 1968.

In recent years, Belafonte has used his celebrity to draw attention to civil rights issues and injustices on a global scale, particularly in respect to children suffering from malnutrition and sickness. In 1985 Belafonte, with friend Ken Kragen, organized the hugely successful and inspirational We Are the World, which won a Grammy award, and more importantly for Belafonte, raised millions of dollars for and heightened an awareness of victims of famine and drought in Africa. An outgrowth of that record was the USA for Africa foundation, on whose board of directors Belafonte has served with, among others, Lionel Richie, Quincy Jones, and Kenny Rogers. Belafonte was also deeply involved in Hands Across America, an outgrowth organization benefiting hungry and homeless Americans.

In 1987 Belafonte was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, only the second American ever to hold the title. His first humanitarian odyssey in that position brought him to Dakar, Senegal, where he served as head of a fourday symposium in which African intellectuals and artists strove to publicize and consider solutions to the variegated problems besetting children on that continent. His commitment to the survival and health of Third World children led Ebony magazine to dub him The Childrens Patron Saint and a prime minister of hope, and earned him the 1989 Danny Kaye Award by the U.S. Committee for UNICEF. Vigorously pursuing a UNICEF drive to immunize children in developing counties, Belafonte has been called on frequently to testify before congressional committees. Through a fund bearing his name, Belafonte has opened new cultural exchanges with African nations, enabling African students to pursue an education in the United States.

Protested Through Music

As an outspoken critic of South Africas apartheid government, Belafonte orchestrated a burst of artistic, if not political, liberation with the 1988 release of his critically acclaimed album Paradise in Gazankulu. Because of his arrest years earlier during an antiapartheid protest outside the South African Embassy in Washington D.C., his advocacy of strict international economic sanctions, and his repeated calls for the release of then imprisoned African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, Belafonte was considered a persona non grataunaccepted or unwelcomein South Africa and could not go to that country in order to work on the album. Instead, musicians recorded the music there and the tapes were sent to the United States, where Belafonte added the vocals. Though banned on South African radio, Paradise was praised internationally for beautifully capturing in music the painful and haunting stories and poems describing life in a land infamous for its oppression.

In 1989 Belafonte was one of the recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement in the performing arts, arguably the most prestigious award given to artists by the U.S. government. I couldnt help thinking how much of my life had been spent at odds with these people, with the establishment, and here they were honoring me, he was quoted as telling the Ottawa Citizen. Ive been critical of government actions and I will continue to be critical, and here I was being recognized for my accomplishments. It made me fall in love with America all over again.

Selected discography

Mark Twain, RCA, 1954.

Calypso (includes Banana Boat Song), RCA, 1956.

Belafonte (includes Matilda), RCA, 1956.

An Evening With Belafonte, RCA, 1957.

Harry Belafonte Songs of the Caribbean, RCA, 1957.

Belafonte Sings the Blues, RCA, 1958.

Love Is a Gentle Thing, RCA, 1959.

(With Lena Horne) Porgy and Bess, RCA, 1959.

Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, RCA, 1959.

My Lord What a Mornin, RCA, 1960.

Swing Dat Hammer, RCA, 1960.

Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall, RCA, 1960.

Jump Up Calypso, RCA, 1961.

To Wish You a Merry Christmas, RCA, 1962.

Midnight Special, RCA, 1962.

The Many Moods of Belafonte, RCA, 1962.

Streets I Have Walked, RCA, 1963.

Belafonte at the Greek Theater, RCA, 1964.

Ballads, Blues, and Boasters, RCA, 1964.

(With Miriam Makeba) An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba, RCA, 1965.

(With Nana Mouskouri) An Evening With Belafonte/Mouskouri, RCA, 1966.

In My Quiet Room, RCA, 1966.

Calypso in Brass, RCA, 1967.

Belafonte on Campus, RCA, 1967.

Belafonte Sings of Love, RCA, 1968.

Homeward Bound, RCA, 1970.

Belafonte by Request, RCA, 1970.

Belafonte Warm Touch, RCA, 1971.

This Is Belafonte, RCA, 1971.

Dont Stop the Carnival, RCA, 1972.

Play Me, RCA, 1973.

Turn the World Around, Columbia Records, 1977.

Loving You Is Where I Belong, Columbia Records, 1981 (Europe).

Paradise in Gazankulu, EMI, 1988.

Harry Belafonte: All Time Greatest Hits, RCA, 1988, volumes 2 and 3, 1989.

Belafonte 89, EMI, 1989 (Europe).

Belafonte 89 (abridged version), EMI, 1990 (United States).

Pure Gold, RCA.

Sources

Books

Fogelson, Genia, Harry Belafonte, Holloway, 1980.

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, July 26, 1990.

Ebony, September 1988.

Fun & Gaming, March 1, 1990.

Ottawa Citizen, January 13, 1990.

Paul Masson Summer Series, June 1989.

Sun-Times (Chicago), July 27, 1990.

Additional information obtained from a 1991 Belafonte Enterprises Inc. biography.

Isaac Rosen

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Belafonte, Harry

Harry Belafonte

Singer, actor, activist

For the Record

Voice Captivated First Audience

Career Soared With Calypso

Dedicated to Humanitarian Causes

Selected discography

Sources

It is said that the worlds of music and morality do not collide, but rather balance harmoniously in the life and work of entertainer Harry Belafonte. In the 1950s Belafonte introduced the colorful, bouncy melodies of calypso music to the United States, and American listeners began swaying to the jaunty Caribbean beat and singing Day-O along with the masterful crooner. Since that time Belafonte has used his visibility as an entertainer to cast a political spotlight on humanitarian causes ranging from world hunger to civil rights to the plight of children in the Third World. Belafontes accomplishments, and the awards bestowed on him in the spheres of entertainment and activism, show a man equally committed to musical excellence and political virtuousness.

Known as the consummate entertainer, Belafonte was born in Harlem, New York, in 1927. His parents were West Indian, and he moved with his mother to her native Jamaica when he was a child. In the five years he spent on the island he not only absorbed the music that was such a vital part of the culture but also observed the effects of colonialism, the political oppression that native Jamaicans had to endure under British rule. That environment gave me much of my sense of the world at large and what I wanted to do with it, Belafonte was quoted as saying in the Paul Masson Summer Series. It helped me carve out a tremendous link to other nations that reflect a similar temperament or character.

Once back in Harlem, another culturally and artistically rich environment, Belafonte became street smart, learning the hard lessons of survival in the big city. When the United States entered World War II, he ended his high school education and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After an honorable discharge he returned to New York City, where he bounced between odd jobs. His first foray into the world of entertainment came in the late 1940s when he was given two tickets to a production of the American Negro Theater. He was hooked after one performance. I was absolutely mesmerized by that experience, he told the Ottawa Citizen in 1990. It was really a spiritual, mystical feeling I had that night. I went backstage to see if there was anything I could do. His first leading role with the company was in Irish playwright Sean OCaseys Juno and the Paycock. Impressed by the power and message of OCaseys words, and by the promise of theater in general, Belafonte enrolled in the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research, studying under famous German director Erwin Piscator, whose other students included Rod Steiger and Bea Arthur.

For the Record

Born Harold George Belafonte, Jr., March 1, 1927, in New York, NY; son of Harold George and Melvine (Love) Belafonte; married, 1948; wifes name Marguerite (divorced); married Julie Robinson (a dancer), March 8, 1957; children: Adrienne, Shari, David, Gina. Education: Attended Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research, studying under Erwin Piscator.

Singer, actor, producer, political activist. Joined the American Negro Theater, late 1940s, appearing in Juno and the Paycock ; performed at such clubs as the Royal Roost Nightclub and the Village Vanguard, New York City, late 1940s and early 1950s; appeared on Broadway in John Murray Andersons Almanac, 1953; appeared in television adaptation of Carmen Jones, 1955; released Calypso, 1956; appeared in films, including Island in the Sun, 1957, Uptown Saturday Night, 1974, First Look, 1984, and The Player, 1992; produced television program A Time for Laughter, 1967; helped organize We Are the World recording session, 1985. Named cultural adviser to the Peace Corps by President John F. Kennedy; named member of the board of directors, Southern Christian Leadership Conference; chair of Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Fund; appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, 1987. Military service : U.S. Navy, 1943-45.

Selected awards: Tony Award for best supporting actor, 1953, for John Murray Andersons Almanac ; Emmy Award, 1960, for Tonight With Harry Belafonte ; Grammy Award, 1985, for We Are the World.

Addresses: Office Belafonte Enterprises Inc., 830 8th Ave., New York, NY 10019.

Voice Captivated First Audience

Belafonte was concerned about the scarcity of work for black actors but got a break when, as a class project, he sang an original composition called Recognition. His audience was spellbound. Among the listeners was the owner of the Royal Roost Nightclub, a well-known Broadway jazz center. Belafonte was offered a twoweek stint that, due to such positive reception, blossomed into a twenty-week engagement. At the Roost and later at other clubs, such as the Village Vanguard in New York Citys Greenwich Village, Belafonte charmed audiences with his husky-yet-sweet-voiced adaptations of popular and West Indian folk songs.

Armed with a recording contract with Capital Records and the praise of critics, this bright new talent started making his mark. He first appeared on Broadway in John Murray Andersons Almanac, for which he won a Tony Award. In 1955, in a television adaptation of the film Carmen Jones, Belafonte played the lead role and endeared himself to a national audience. Throughout the next few decades he continued to act in films such as Island in the Sun and Uptown Saturday Night, and produced television programs such as A Time for Laughter, in which he introduced U.S. audiences to then nationally unknown humorists Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx.

Career Soared With Calypso

It was in 1956, with the release of his album Calypso, that Belafonte sealed his status as a superstar and consummated Americas love affair with Caribbean music. His most famous recordings, Banana Boat Song (popularly known as Day-O) and Matilda, recalled the melodies, rhythm, and spirit of Jamaica and other West Indian cultures. Throughout the sixties, seventies, and eighties, Belafonte reached into the lore and music of other cultures, most notably those of South America and Africa. He also continued with his celebrated interpretations of American folk ballads and spirituals, but he is always most closely associated with the zest and spunk of calypso.

Belafontes Calypso was the first album to sell more than one million copies, a benchmark that led to the establishment of the Grammy Awards. The album was only one of many illustrious firsts in Belafontes life. He was the first black man to win an Emmy Award as well as the first black television producer. He was also the first entertainer to be named cultural adviser to the Peace Corps by President John F. Kennedy.

Belafontes success on vinyl and tape has always translated well in his live concerts, where he uses singalongs, dialogue with audience members, and a contagious energy and excitement to get the crowds responding jubilantly. Dave Hoekstra wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times in 1990 that Belafonte sings from discovery and fulfillment. So when you listen to the Belafonte songbook on a perfect summer night, you know the dignity, poise and spiritual exploration will still be heard long after the voice has passed. That is Harry Belafontes lasting contribution to American popular music.

Dedicated to Humanitarian Causes

As important as his accomplishments in music are Belafontes political activities on behalf of humanitarian causes around the world. And more often than not he has been able to successfully merge these two passions. In 1985 Belafonte helped organize the recording session for the philanthropic and inspirational We Are the World, which won a Grammy Award, and he has been involved in many projects aimed at helping those suffering from poverty, homelessness, and famine around the world. As a result of his efforts to fight segregation in the United States, Belafonte was named to the board of directors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading civil rights organization, and he has been chair of the memorial fund bearing the name of his friend, the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1987 he was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and he has been dubbed the Childrens Patron Saint by Ebony magazine.

Belafontes interest in Africaparticularly in those suffering under apartheids white minority rule in South Africaand his admiration for African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, inspired his critically acclaimed 1988 album Paradise in Gazankulu. Banned on South African radio, the album was praised for beautifully capturing in music the painful and haunting stories of life in a land infamous for its oppressiveness. In 1990 Howard Reich, appraising Belafontes role as both entertainer and activist, wrote in the Chicago Tribune : Like very few entertainers, he knows how to lure an audience to his point of viewor his political causewithout preaching. Belafontes message is one of hope and optimism, even in the face of the global tragedies he decries.

Selected discography

Mark Twain, RCA, 1954.

Calypso (includes Banana Boat Song), RCA, 1956.

Belafonte (includes Matilda), RCA, 1956.

An Evening With Belafonte, RCA, 1957.

Harry Belafonte Songs of the Caribbean, RCA, 1957.

Belafonte Sings the Blues, RCA, 1958.

Love Is a Gentle Thing, RCA, 1959.

(With Lena Home) Porgy and Bess, RCA, 1959.

Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, RCA, 1959.

My Lord What a Mornin, RCA, 1960.

Swing Dat Hammer, RCA, 1960.

Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall, RCA, 1960.

Jump Up Calypso, RCA, 1961.

To Wish You a Merry Christmas, RCA, 1962.

Midnight Special, RCA, 1962.

The Many Moods of Belafonte, RCA, 1962.

Streets I Have Walked, RCA, 1963.

Belafonte at the Greek Theater, RCA, 1964.

Ballads, Blues, and Boasters, RCA, 1964.

(With Miriam Makeba) An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba, RCA, 1965.

(With Nana Mouskouri) An Evening With Belafonte/Mouskouri, RCA, 1966.

In My Quiet Room, RCA, 1966.

Calypso in Brass, RCA, 1967.

Belafonte on Campus, RCA, 1967.

Belafonte Sings of Love, RCA, 1968.

Homeward Bound, RCA, 1970.

Belafonte by Request, RCA, 1970.

Belafonte Warm Touch, RCA, 1971.

This Is Belafonte, RCA, 1971.

Dont Stop the Carnival, RCA, 1972.

Play Me, RCA, 1973.

Turn the World Around, Columbia Records, 1977.

Loving You Is Where I Belong, Columbia Records, 1981 (Europe).

Paradise in Gazankulu, EMI, 1988.

Harry Belafonte: All Time Greatest Hits, RCA, 1988, volumes 2 and 3, 1989.

Belafonte 89, EMI, 1989 (Europe).

Belafonte 89 (abridged version), EMI, 1990 (United States).

Pure Gold, RCA.

Sources

Chicago Tribune, July 26, 1990.

Ebony, September 1988.

Fun & Gaming, March 1, 1990.

Ottawa Citizen, January 13, 1990.

Paul Masson Summer Series, June 1989.

Sun-Times (Chicago), July 27, 1990.

Additional information obtained from a 1991 Belafonte Enterprises Inc. biography.

Isaac Rosen

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Harry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte (born 1927), triumphed over a difficult childhood and racial barriers, as an African American growing up in the United States. His songs were extremely popular in middle class American households in the mid-1950s, and helped to popularize calypso music throughout the world.

Harry Belafonte stands out as one of the best-loved singers and entertainers of the 20th century. His dream began in December 1945, when he saw his first play and enrolled in acting classes with Marlon Brando and Walter Matthau. In 1949, he sang for the first time at New York's Royal Roost. This appearance opened the way to his first recording contract. Later, a two-week singing engagement at the Village Vanguard, a showcase for the premier blues, jazz, and folk artists of the 1950s and 1960s, was extended to 14-weeks. From that point, both Hollywood and Broadway took notice. Belafonte made an impact on screen, in addition to his recordings and stage performance. These achievements assisted him in his most vital passion: the civil rights cause. However much he loved to sing or act, Belafonte was most grateful for the access it gave him to large audiences, with whom he could make the biggest impact. By the end of the 1990s, he worked as a director and producer on film projects, breaking racial barriers and creating new opportunities for African Americans in the entertainment industry.

Two Marriages, Many Different Lives

Harold George Belafonte, Jr. was born in New York City, on March 1, 1927. He was baptized as an infant into the Roman Catholic faith. His father, Harold, Sr., was from the Caribbean island of Martinique, in the French West Indies. His mother, Melvine Love, was from Jamaica. Both were products of racially mixed marriages. In Arnold Shaw's biography, Belafonte, the singer explained: "On both sides of my family, my aunts and uncles intermarried. If you could see my whole family congregated together, you would see every tonality of color, from the darkest black, like my Uncle Hyne, to the ruddiest white, like my Uncle Eric, a Scotsman." He had one brother, named Dennis. His father was gone often, working for British merchant boats as a chef. When Belafonte was six, his father left his mother for a white woman, which was thought to have added to his own hostility toward whites as a child. At the age of nine, his mother sent him and his brother to her native Kingston, Jamaica, where she thought it would be safer than the restless streets of a poverty-stricken, Depression-era Harlem. There he attended private British boarding schools, where caning for misbehavior was a common practice. As a boy with darker skin, he was not always treated well by his lighter-skinned relatives. Still, he enjoyed the sounds of calypso music, which would influence his later career. In Shaw's biography, Belafonte noted his thoughts about of life in Jamaica: "I still have the impression of an environment that sang. Nature sang and the people sang, too. The streets of Kingston constantly rang with the songs of piping peddlers or politicians drumming up votes in the lilting singsong of the island. I loved it. I loved also night gazing. I used to climb up a mango tree and lie back and munch mangoes and gaze through the leaves at the star-filled sky." When he was 13, Belafonte returned to New York, where he was a star on the track team at George Washington High School. In 1944, he left school to join the Navy. That same year, he met his first wife, Margurite Byrd.

Belafonte married Byrd on June 18, 1948. They had two daughters, Adrienne and Shari. Shari would grow up to be an actress. The troubled marriage eventually ended in divorce. In 1957, Belafonte married Julie Robinson. They had a son, David, and a daughter, Gina. Gina became an actress, as well, starring in the 1980s hit television series, "The Commish."

Belafonte first studied acting at a dramatic workshop affiliated with the New School for Social Research and run by German director, Erwin Piscator. Among his classmates were Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, and Sidney Poitier. Belafonte's recording of "Calypso," with RCA Victor in 1955, was the first recording ever to sell over one million copies. That same year he won a Tony award on Broadway for his performance in a musical revue, "Three for Tonight." Belafonte had completed two movies by that time, Bright Road, in 1953, and Carmen Jones, in 1954. Carmen Jones, was the first movie with an entirely black cast to become a box office success. In a 1972 interview with Guy Flatley of The New York Times, Belafonte discussed his success with the public. "From the beginning, I cut a certain figure on stage, a figure that has come to mean something specific in the minds and hearts of people around the world. I'm the guy in the cutaway shirt and the tight pants, the guy doing all those catchy songs. People have always brought this image of me into the theater with them, and no matter what I've felt internally, they just wouldn't buy a lot of the things I was trying to project."

Whether Belafonte appeared on television, film or live concerts, the American public was unaware of his anger. He received Grammy awards for recordings in 1960, 1961, and 1965. In 1989, he was recognized as a Kennedy Center Honoree, the annual award recognizing careers of distinction in the arts. Some of his films included, Buck and the Preacher, in 1972; Island in the Sun, 1957; White Man's Burden, 1995, and the made-for television movie, Swing Vote, 1999. His complete recording history numbers in the thousands. His soft melodic voice crossed any barriers of racial prejudice, whether or not he approached that subject directly.

After completing work on the light-hearted comedy, "Uptown Saturday Night" in 1972, Belafonte made few films, until he was approached by director Robert Altman in 1996. When Altman asked him to play the role of Seldom Seen in his film, "Kansas City," Belafonte was surprised. It was unlike any role he had ever taken—breaking his stereotype as a happy, easy-going character. "Here I had to play this rather debased, degenerate, complicated, evil man. To have Bob Altman believe that I could do it strongly enough never to let the audience even think of the 'Belafonte' they're familiar with, but just to stick completely to what the character does, was an enormous trust. And an enormous challenge," Belafonte told Henri Behar in a 1999 interview for Film Scouts. By the late 1990s, Belafonte was making his way as a director and producer. His work as executive producer for a television mini-series, Parting the Waters, premiered in 2000. In his interview with Behar, Belafonte discussed his consciousness as a black person in Hollywood, trying to make a difference. "I'm denied to the degree that all black people are denied that. I don't mean me Harry personally. I'm denied it because nobody has done it. Sidney Poitier had a certain level of work, Spike Lee has a certain level of work, Denzel Washington has a certain level of work. I have a certain level of work. But if you take a good look at black life, and its diversity, and how much there is in that life… . There is a life in Brazil, a life in Africa, a life in Paris. There's a very intense black life in Paris and in England. We tell very little of that canvas. It's so small it hardly equates."

Leading the Struggle

Belafonte was constantly visible to anyone with a television set in the 1960s. He was photographed on the pages of Time, and Life, magazines, often arm-in-arm with Martin Luther King and others, as they marched for civil rights in the United States. Belafonte was convinced that nonviolence was the only means to affect change for African Americans. The ongoing struggle to improve the lives of African Americans and blacks throughout the world occupied a great deal of his time and attention. In June 1998, Belafonte was present at Newcastle Upon Tyne University in Northern England when that institution memorialized his friend Martin Luther King, with a permanent plaque. They also honored Belafonte with an honorary doctorate, only the second person in the school's history to be so honored. Dr. King had been the first.

Further Reading

Shaw, Arnold. Belafonte: An Unauthorized Biography, The Chilton Company, 1960.

Ebony, November 1981.

The New York Times, April 7, 1996; June 3, 1998; February 8, 1999.

The New York Times Biographical Edition, July 2, 1972.

Behar, Henri, "A Conversation with Harry Belafonte," Film Scouts, October 9, 1999. Available at: http://www.filmscouts.com.

"Harry Belafonte," (Kennedy Center Honors), AfroPop, 1989.Available at: http://www.afropop.org.

"Harry Belafonte." AFAMNET, 1998. Available at: http://www.afamnet.com.

"Harry Belafonte." EOnline, 1999. Available at: http://www.eonline.com.

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Belafonte, Harry

BELAFONTE, Harry



Nationality: American. Born: Harold George Belafonte, Jr., in New York City, 1 March 1927. Education: Studied at Irwin Piscator's Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research, 1946–48, Actors Studio, and the American Negro Theatre. Military Service: U.S. Navy, 1943–45. Family: Married Marguerite Byrd (divorced); two daughters, Adrienne and Shari Belafonte (actress); married dancer Julie Robinson, 8 March 1957; son, David, and daughter, Gina Belafonte (actress). Career: Became a member of the American Negro Theater in New York, 1948; appeared regularly on the CBS black variety show Sugar Hill Times, 1949; first appeared on Broadway, 1953; film debut in Bright Road, 1953; recording artist with RCA, 1954–73; popularized calypso music with the release of his album Calypso, 1956; formed his own television production company, 1959; first African American to star in a television special, 1960; president, Belafonte Enterprises Inc.; became goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, 1986. Awards: Tony Award, for Almanac, 1953; Emmy Award, for Tonight with Belafonte, 1960; Grammy Awards, for We Are the World, 1985; recipient of Kennedy Center Honors, 1989; National Medal of Arts Award, 1994; New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor, for Kansas City, 1996; Chairman's Award, NAACP, 1999; numerous honorary doctorates and humanitarian awards. Address: Belafonte Enterprises Inc., 830 8th Avenue, New York, NY 10019, USA.


Films as Actor:

1953

Bright Road (Mayer) (as school principal)

1954

Carmen Jones (Preminger) (as Joe)

1957

Island in the Sun (Rossen) (as David Boyeur)

1959

The World, The Flesh, and the Devil (MacDougall) (as Ralph Burton); Odds Against Tomorrow (Wise) (as Johnny Ingram)

1970

King: A Filmed Record. . . Montgomery to Memphis (doc)(narrator), The Angel Levine (Kadár) (as Alexander Levine)

1972

Buck and the Preacher (Poitier) (as the Preacher)

1974

Uptown Saturday Night (Poitier) (as Geechie Dan Beauford);Free to Be You & Me (Davis, Steckier) (as himself)

1981

Grambling's White Tiger (Brown—for TV) (as Eddie Robinson)

1982

A veces miro mi vida (Rojas) (as himself)

1989

We Shall Overcome (Brown) (doc) (narrator)

1990

Eyes on the Prize II (Shearer—for TV) (doc) (as himself)

1992

The Player (Altman) (as himself)

1994

Prêt-à-Porter (Ready to Wear) (Altman) (as himself)

1995

White Man's Burden (Nakano) (as Thaddeus Thomas)

1996

Jazz '34 (Robert Altman's Jazz '34) (Altman) (as narrator);Danny Kaye: A Legacy of Laughter (Marty—for TV) (doc)(as himself); Kansas City (Altman) (as Seldom Seen)

1999

Swing Vote (Anspaugh—for TV) (as Will)

Films as Producer:

1984

Beat Street

1995

The Affair (for TV)

2000

Parting the Waters (miniseries—for TV)

Publications


By BELAFONTE: articles-

Interview in Interview (New York), September 1996.

On BELAFONTE: books-

Shaw, Arnold, Belafonte:AnUnauthorizedBiography, New York, 1960.

Null, Gary. Black Hollywood: The Negro in Motion Pictures , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1975.


On BELAFONTE: articles-

Gates, Jr., Henry Louis, "Belafonte's Balancing Act" (two-part series), in New Yorker, 26 August 1996 and 2 September 1996.

Case, Brian, "Reigning Blows," in Time Out (London), no. 1370, 20 November 1996.


* * *

Harry Belafonte, born in Harlem to a Jamaican mother and a father from Martinique, is known as the "consummate entertainer," successful in the realms of theater, motion pictures, and the recording industry. A human rights activist, Belafonte has used his celebrity to cast a spotlight on humanitarian causes around the world, including the Civil Rights struggle of African Americans, the fight against apartheid in South Africa, and UNICEF. In motion pictures he is probably best known for his acting talents, which, combined with his physique, good looks, and voice, made him Hollywood's first African American male sex symbol.

Belafonte's first appeared in Bright Road (1953) alongside Dorothy Dandridge. He starred with her again the next year in Carmen Jones, an all-black version of George Bizet's opera, Carmen. Belafonte's popularity with female audiences crossed color lines, and Hollywood exploited it by frequently casting him in films that featured interracial romance, such as the controversial Island in the Sun. Because such stereotyping limited his acting possibilities, Belafonte turned to the recording industry, singing calypso music, a popular folk style in the Carribean. His recordings of such songs as "Matilda" and what would become his signature song, "Banana Boat Song," resulted in an American obsession with the music form. His album Calypso became the first solo album to sell over a million copies.

In 1960 Belafonte starred in a television special, becoming the first African American to do so. He did not work in motion pictures during the decade, dedicating his energies to the Civil Rights Movement. During the African American struggle for social, political, and economic equality, Belafonte helped raise funds for the Montogomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Riders and voter registration drives, and helped establish the Southern Free Theater in Mississippi. He served on the board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and chaired the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Fund. He also worked as an unofficial liason between the Kennedy Administration and leaders of the Movement. In 1961, he was appointed to the advisory committee of the Peace Corps.

Belafonte returned to motion pictures during the 1970s, appearing in such films as Buck and the Preacher (1971) and Uptown Saturday Night (1974) with comedian Bill Cosby. During this period, he continued his singing career, recording albums and performing, often for the benefit of numerous charities. In 1984 he became a film producer, bringing to the screen one of the first hip-hop inspired feature films, Beat Street. Belafonte continued his multifaceted career in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1985 he developed the idea for what was to become the "We Are the World Project," which brought together popular music artists such as Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen to record a single that raised over $70 million for famine relief in Africa. In 1986 he was named goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, and in 1990 served as the chair for the committee that welcomed Nelson Mandela to the United States. He received numerous awards for his humanitarian efforts.

In the 1990s Belafonte appeared regularly in the films of Robert Altman. His cameo appearances in Prêt-à-Porter and The Player allowed him to poke fun at his image as the suave black celebrity, but he played a far more substantive role in Kansas City (1996). As Seldom Seen he was a menacing gangster figure lurking in the background of the 1930s Kansas City jazz scene. The role earned him a best supporting actor award from the New York Film Critics Circle.

—Frances Gateward

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