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Harry Belafonte (1927-2023)

Harry Belafonte

Belafonte was one of the most successful African-American singers in the history of the United States. His first Calypso Caribbean Music album released in 1956 sold a million copies in one year only in the US. But as he once said he was a social activist even before becoming a famous and prolific singer, songwriter, and actor. He was considered an activist, singer, and an actor, by Paul Robeson, his friend and mentor.

Belafonte was born in Harlem New York on March 1st, 1927, the son of Jamaican immigrants. He grew up in dire poverty by Melvin, his single mother who worked as a housekeeper, while his father Harold worked as a cook in the British Navy and was away at sea for most of the time. From 1932 to 1940 he was sent to Jamaica to live with his grandmother and attended a boarding school. There he became aware of slavery, forced labor, dispossession, and oppression carried out on the people by forces of British imperialism. Learning of and witnessing these cruelties helped him to shape his future progressive thoughts. Upon returning to New York, he attended high school, and then dropped out, and joined the US Navy and served during WWII. Later he became interested in arts, and sang in a club to pay for acting classes in Dramatic Workshop, New York. The Workshop was run by the influential German director and producer Ervin Piscator, who along with Bertolt Brecht were the leading promoters of epic theatre. His classmates included Marlon Brando, Beatrice Arthur, Tony Curtis, Walter Matthau, and Sydney Poitier.

While acting at the American Negro Theatre, Belafonte started his music carrier. His first widely released single album which became his "signature" audience participation song in almost all his live performances was "Matilda", recorded on April 27, 1953. Then in 1956 with the release of "Calypso".

As a socially conscious black performer, Belafonte was not only participating in all social justice movements, but he also had a generous hand for financial aids.

Belafonte opposed the 1983 invasion of the small island of Grenada during the Ronald Reagan Presidency. He praised the Soviet Union peace initiatives. He admired the Cuban peoples' progressive achievements in spite of the long-lasting US embargo, and met several times with Fidel Castro.

When in 2005, Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela initiated a programme to provide cheaper heating oil for poor people in parts of the United States, Belafonte supported this initiative and facilitated its distribution. In 2006, accompanied with Danny Glover, Cornel West, and others went to Venezuela and met Chavez.

Belafonte described George W. Bush as "the greatest terrorist in the World". Referring to Malcolm X and compared Colin Powel and Condoleezza Rice, both black Bush's Secretaries of State, to slaves who worked at their master's house rather than the fields.

His struggle for human rights, and social justice, and his fight against apartheid in South-Africa, segregation in the United States, imperialists' wars, and colonisations was passionate and lasting until the end of his life. He was a confidante of Martin Luther king and a friend of Nelson Mandela.

Belafonte was one of the most famous international personalities along with Dmitri Shostakovich, Jules Dassin, Melina Mercouri, and Leonard Bernstein that requested the release of sick Mikis Theodorakis from the Greek Junta's concentration Camp. Theodorakis was finally released in late 1967 and allowed to go to Paris for treatment of tuberculosis.

In 2016, Belafonte endorsed Bernie Sanders for the Democratic primary, saying: "I think he represents opportunity; I think he represents a moral imperative. I think he represents a certain kind of truth that's not often evidenced in the course of politics."

Belafonte was one of the rare artists who has received all four entertainment's biggest awards (EGOT). An Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony.

Belafonte married 3 times and had 4 children. He died on April 25, 2023 at the age of 96 in Manhattan New York. The cause of his death was congestive heart failure.

Some of his famous works are:


  • John Murray Anderson's Almanac (1953), Won a Tony Award for supporting actor.

  • Bright Road (1953).

  • Carmen Jones (1954). An adaptation of the George Bizet opera, Camen.

  • Island in the Sun (1957).

  • Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

  • The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959).

  • Angel Levine (1970).

  • Buck and the Preacher (1972.

  • Uptown Saturday Night (1974).

  • Free to Be … You & Me (1974).

  • Grambling's White Tiger (1981).

  • The Player (1992).

  • Ready to Wear (1994).

  • White Man's Burden (1995).

  • Kansas City (1996).

  • Swing Vote (1999).

  • Bobby (2006). About June 5,1968 shooting of Robert F. Kennedy.

  • Motherland (2010).

  • Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin to Tell You (2013).

  • The 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (2013).

  • BlacKkKlansman (2018). It is about a black detective that sets out to infiltrate and expose the local Kuk lux Klan chapter.


Belafonte recorded more than 30 albums, mostly included in Calypso Albums.

  • Banana Boat Song (1955).

  • Jump in the Line (1961).

  • Midnight Special (1962).

Most famous documentaries:

  • King (1970), biography of Martin Luther King.

  • Ella Baker (1981), a human rights activist.

  • Hank Aaron, Chasing the Dream. (1995).

  • Fidel, The Untold Story (2001).

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