Actor, singer and activist Harry Belafonte has achieved lasting fame for such songs as ‘The Banana Boat Song (Day-O),’ as well as for his film and humanitarian work.
Who Is Harry Belafonte?
Born on March 1, 1927, in New York City, Harry Belafonte struggled with poverty and a turbulent family life as a child. His professional career took off with the musical Carmen Jones, and soon he was burning up the charts with hits like “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” and “Jump in the Line.” Belafonte has also championed many social and political causes, and earned such prestigious accolades as the National Medal of Arts.
Harry Belafonte Photo
Harold George Belafonte Jr. was born on March 1, 1927, in New York City, to Caribbean immigrants. His mother worked as a dressmaker and a house cleaner, and his father served as a cook on merchant ships, before leaving the family when Belafonte was a young boy.
Belafonte also spent much of his early years in Jamaica, his mother’s native country. There, he saw firsthand the oppression of blacks by the English authorities, which left a lasting impression on him.
Belafonte returned to New York City’s Harlem neighborhood in 1940 to live with his mother. They struggled in poverty, and Belafonte was often cared for by others while his mother worked. “The most difficult time in my life was when I was a kid,” he later told People magazine. “My mother gave me affection, but, because I was left on my own, also a lot of anguish.”
Wife and Children
Belafonte lives in New York City with his third wife, photographer Pamela Frank. The couple wed in 2008. Belafonte had two children with second wife, dancer Julie Robinson, as well as two other children from his first marriage, to Marguerite Byrd.
Dropping out of high school, Belafonte enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1944. He returned to New York City after his discharge, and was working as a janitor’s assistant when he first attended a production at the American Negro Theater (AMT). Mesmerized by the performance, the young Navy vet volunteered to work for the AMT as a stagehand, eventually deciding to become an actor.
Belafonte studied drama at the Dramatic Workshop run by Erwin Piscator, where his classmates included Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau and Bea Arthur. Along with appearing in AMT productions, he caught the eye of music agent Monte Kay, who offered Belafonte the opportunity to perform at a jazz club called the Royal Roost. Backed by such talented musicians as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, Belafonte became a popular act at the club. In 1949 he landed his first recording deal.
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(Accessed on 03/01/2019)
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