Born Harold George Belafonte
on March 1, 1927 in Harlem, New York. He is first and foremost a singer
, but also has produced and acted. Is is famous for using his position as an entertainer
to promote human rights
worldwide. He is best known for his song Banana Boat Song
His family moved to Jamaica in 1935 but returned five years later. Belafonte has dyslexia, and so dropped out of high school after the ninth grade. When he turned 17, he joined the U.S. Navy. It was here that Belafonte's political consciousness was awakened, and here he was introduced him to the works of W.E.B. Du Bois.
In 1948 Belafonte settled in New York City, and, after working a variety of odd jobs, he joined of the American Negro Theatre in Harlem. His first leading role was in Juno and the Paycock. In 1953, he won a Tony award for his role in Johnny Anderson's Almanac. He also starred in Island in the Sun (1957) and The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959). In 1960 he became the first African American to receive an Emmy award,
for his work in "Tonight with Belafonte."
In 1949, a performance at an amateur night at the Royal Roost nightclub in New York led to an RCA recording contract. Belafonte's 1956 album Calypso sold more than a million copies.
Critics claimed that a singer who had never visited Trinidad & Tobago could not claim to know calypso, but this did not stop his success with hits like "Jamaica Farewell" and "Matilda". He also performed songs such as "Cotton Fields" that conveyed the pain of the black African American experience.
Belafonte's appeal to white audiences did not protect him from racial segregation. As a result, he refused to perform in the South from 1954 until 1961, and he became deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1956 Belafonte met Martin Luther King Jr., in Montgomery, Alabama, and they quickly became close friends.
Belafonte sent the money to bail King out of the Birmingham City Jail and raised thousands of dollars to release other jailed protesters and for other freedom-related causes. In 1963, he helped to organize the March on Washington.
Belafonte continues to use his power as an entertainer in the struggle for civil rights. His production company, Harbel, formed in 1959, produces movies and television shows by and about black Americans. Belafonte's idea for the hit song "We Are the World" generated more than 70 million dollars to fight famine in Ethiopia in 1985. He chaired the welcoming committee for Nelson Mandela's visit to the United States.