Harry Belafonte

Actor / Singer / TV Producer
Date Of Birth:
1 March 1927
Date Of Death:
25 April 2023
congestive heart failure
Place Of Birth:
New York City, New York
Best Known As:
The calypso crooner who sang "The Banana Boat Song"

Name at birth: Harold George Belafonte, Jr.

Harry Belafonte was an African-American entertainer and producer who brought Jamaica's calypso beat to mainstream audiences and then used his fame to fight against racial and social inequality. Harry Belafonte grew up in both Jamaica and the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. After serving in World War II, Belafonte set out to have a career in the theater in New York. His silky voice soon earned him a recording contract, and in the late 1940s and early 1950s he was a popular New York club performer and sometime television star. In 1953 he made his movie debut and turned in a Tony Award-winning performance in John Murray Anderson's Almanac. His version of "The Banana Boat Song" -- with its memorable call of 'Day-o! Day-o!" -- was a hit and started a brief calypso beat craze. His album Calypso became the first million-selling LP by a single artist. One of the first African-American producers in television, Belafonte won an Emmy for 1959's Tonight with Belafonte and was a frequent guest on television variety shows throughout the 1960s and '70s. His film career includes Carmen Jones (1954), Island in the Sun (1957), Buck and the Preacher (1972, with Sidney Poitier) and Kansas City (1996). In addition to a long, successful singing and producing career, Belafonte was a close friend to Martin Luther King, Jr. and well-known as an advocate for human rights. He received awards from the Peace Corps and UNICEF. His many other honors include Kennedy Center Honors (1989), the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars (2014), and a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement (2000).
Extra Credit

“The Banana Boat Song” was co-written by actor Alan Arkin… Harry Belafonte studied drama in New York in the same class of young actors as Marlon Brando, Rod Steiger and Walter Matthau… His daughter, Shari Belafonte, is a model and actress (she starred in the 1980s TV series Hotel)… Harry Belafonte produced the song, “We Are the World,” a hit that aided charity in 1985… In 1968, Harry Belafonte and singer Petula Clark were at the center of a controversy because during the taping of her television special she briefly touched his arm during a duet. TV sponsors thought viewers — especially in the American southeast — would respond negatively to a white woman touching a black man. Clark and Belafonte stood their ground and the special was aired as originally recorded; the controversy only guaranteed a wider audience.

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