In Harry Belafonte, Africa, the Caribbean, America and the larger diaspora found a treasure thanks to his skill, input, dedication and generosity.
And as with all good books, the Belafonte chapter ends at least in the physical realm. It is fitting then for one who gave the world so much of himself, to breathe his last at home on April 25, 2023 in New York aged 96 from congestive heart failure.
Harry Belafonte Background
Although born on March 1, 1927 in Harlem, New York on March 1, 1927 to Jamaican immigrants -Melvine Love and Harold George Bellantanti Sr., young Harry would taste Jamaican and West Indies life for a decade and two before hugging America once again.
From 1932 to 1940, Belafonte born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr., lived with one of his grandmothers in her native country of Jamaica.
Life was tough but Harry Belafonte was a creative man you see, able to act and sing. He would assemble his singing gifts to spearhead the calypso craze of the 1950s becoming the first recording artiste whose album recorded one million sales with the ‘Calypso’ album.
As an actor, he fared equally good becoming the first African-American to win an Emmy with his first solo TV special “Tonight with Belafonte” (1959).
But this handsome bloke wasn’t only a singer and actor; crucially he became an activist too. This was inspired by the towering figure of a man known as Paul Robeson, who so influenced the dashing Belafonte that he started speaking up against the injustices meted to folks of the African stock from whence his lineage draws roots.
Harry Belafonte ’s Civil Rights Fight and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Bond
So that by 1956, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., telephoned that he was headed for New York on a speaking assignment at the Abyssinian Baptist Church and that he wanted to confer with him, their debut meeting would blossom into a near decade bond where Harry Belafonte became King’s confidant and key fundraiser as well as the civil rights movement’s staunch soldier.
It was Belafonte who sent money to bail king out of the Birmingham city jail. He also raised 1000s of dollars to release southern imprisoned protestors as well as financed Freedom Riots. He helped to organize the March on Washington in 1963.
Belafonte was also a longtime critic of U.S. foreign policy, calling for an end to the embargo against Cuba, supporting the anti-apartheid movement and opposing policies of war and global oppression.
Harry Belafonte acknowledged walking a tightrope with MLK because the obnoxious laws needed to be repealed legally to offer civil rights and freedom. In that vein, he said the Federal Government and courts had to be lobbied for changes to state laws and drive the campaign to a national level.
Racist Cop Incident
Despite finding fame in the 1950s, in 1955 when touring America’s brutal south, Belafonte would recall at a bus stop, while going to the washroom to take a leak, a racist paratrooper threatened to shoot him dead if he dared to pee. The incident registered on his mind as he had to retreat unable to to do something as natural as peeing in a washroom apparently reserved for only whites.
Harry Belafonte as WWII Veteran
The legendary singer, actor and activist was also a World War II veteran who served with the US Navy. He had dropped out of high school in New York City to enlist and contribute to the war effort from 1944 to 1945.
At the time, the military services were segregated. Belafonte, a Jamaican American, was assigned to Port Chicago, California, 35 miles from San Francisco where his job was to load military ships bound for the Pacific theater.
Belafonte ’s Acting and Singing credit
Once he completed his service in 1945, Belafonte returned to New York City. He used his GI Bill benefits to pay for his classes at The New School Dramatic Workshop, alongside future actors Marlon Brando and Belafonte’s lifelong friend Sidney Poitier.
To supplement his income while attending acting classes, Belafonte sang at nightclubs at times backed by the music legends that included jazz musicians Charlie Parker, Max Roach and Miles Davis.
Belafonte’s first widely released single, which became his signature audience participation song in virtually all of his live performances, was “Matilda,” recorded on April 27, 1953. His breakthrough album “Calypso” (1956) became the first long-playing record in the world to sell over 1 million copies within a year. Besides calypso, Belafonte recorded blues, folk, gospel, show tunes and American standards.
He has also starred in several films, most notably “Carmen Jones” (1954), “Island in the Sun” (1957), and “Odds Against Tomorrow” (1959).
Songs and Albums of Harry Belafonte
‘A Hole in the Bucket’ song
“Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall” album (1960)
‘The Banana Boat’ song
‘La Bamba’ song
‘Island in the Sun’ song
Jamaica Farewell (live) 1997
“Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean” album (1957)
Relationships and Children of Harry Belafonte
Pamela Frank (April 12, 2008 – April 25, 2023)
Julie Robinson (March 8, 1957 – 2004) (divorced, 2 children)
Marguerite Belafonte (June 18, 1948 – February 28, 1957) (divorced, 2 children)
Children include Adriene Belafonte, David Belafonte, Gina Belafonte and Shari Belafonte.
Harry Belafonte was reportedly in relationships with Inger Stevens, Dianne Reeves and Dorian Leigh Parker as well as Miriam Makeba.
by michael eli dokosi/www.blakkpepper.net