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Harry Belafonte: Calypso King and Lifelong Activist

Harry Belafonte
Full Name: Harold George Bellanfanti Jr.
Age: 96 years old
Birthday: March 1, 1927
Birthplace: Harlem, New York
Relationship Status: Married to Pamela Frank
Children: 4 (2 with first wife Marguerite Byrd, 2 with second wife Julie Robinson)
Height: 6′ 0′′
Net Worth: $28 million

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As a longtime fan and admirer of Harry Belafonte, it brings me immense joy to share more about this calypso pioneer and tireless activist. Belafonte‘s smooth baritone voice immediately transports me to a Caribbean paradise, while his courageous humanitarian work has inspired me since childhood. Let‘s dive into the fascinating life story and timeless music of the legendary "King of Calypso!"

Earliest Memories of Harry‘s Voice

I can still remember the first time I heard Harry Belafonte‘s rich, soulful voice streaming through the radio as a child. His 1956 mega-hit "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" instantly gripped me with its catchy lyrics and vibrant calypso rhythms. As I later discovered Belafonte‘s wider discography – from gorgeous folk ballads to protest anthems – he became my favorite male vocalist. His emotional, expressive approach to singing resonates deeply. Every time I revisit classics like "Jump In The Line" and "Jamaica Farewell," it‘s like being reunited with an old friend.

"When I first heard Harry Belafonte sing, it was a revelation. That voice – so versatile, smooth, and immediately captivating – felt like it was made for my ears."

Bringing Caribbean Music to the Masses

Belafonte‘s smash album Calypso became the first LP to sell over 1 million copies back in 1956. It helped turn calypso into a full-fledged craze in America, with Belafonte dubbed the shining "King" of the genre. As a lover of Caribbean culture, I‘m grateful to Belafonte for helping introduce calypso and West Indian music to wider mainstream audiences. Hits like "The Banana Boat Song" and "Jamaica Farewell" offered many their first taste of the islands‘ rhythmic delights.

Belafonte was able to masterfully blend folk, blues, pop, jazz, and traditional Caribbean elements into a commercially successful sound. While he will always be associated most closely with calypso, Belafonte impressively showcased his versatility across decades of recording music and performing live concerts. For me, getting lost in a Harry Belafonte recording session would be like entering musical nirvana!

"I could listen to that mellifluous voice over any style, from American folk to Afro-Cuban jazz. The music of Harry Belafonte remains timeless."

A Fearless Activist and Organizer

While I deeply admire Harry Belafonte‘s outstanding artistic career, his bravery as an activist equally awes and inspires me. He risked reputation, profits, and even personal safety to publicly stand up for civil rights and social justice causes from the 1950s onward. Belafonte forged a close, trusted bond with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., advising him and providing financial support for King‘s work.

Belafonte played a key role behind-the-scenes organizing and funding the iconic March on Washington where Dr. King gave his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. He tirelessly rallied public figures and resources to make the March happen. I consider Belafonte‘s activism just as integral to his legacy as his award-winning music. His willingness to fight injustice with both his voice and actions still motivates my own desire to work toward social change.

"I knew I could always count on Belafonte to be on the front lines of any protest or rally. He inspired a generation of artist-activists."

Why Harry Belafonte Will Forever Be Special

There are so many qualities that make Harry Belafonte a treasured icon in my book:

  • His Pioneering Artistry. Belafonte broke down barriers as the first African American Emmy winner and introduced millions to new musical genres.
  • His Powerful Voice. That signature smooth, handsome baritone sound is instantly recognizable. Every lyric he sings feels poignant.
  • His Principled Activism. Belafonte walked the walk, sacrificing profits and safety to support Dr. King and protest injustice.
  • His Charismatic Performances. He had a magnetic stage presence and could enthrall any crowd with ease.
  • His Enormous Impact. Belafonte paved the way for countless artists of color and set a new example of celebrity activism.

Harry Belafonte is simply irreplaceable – both the music industry and the world are far better because of him!

Key Moments from a Remarkable Life

  • 1927: Born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr. in Harlem, NYC
  • 1943: Drops out of high school and joins the Navy, serving in WWII
  • 1953: Hits Billboard charts for the first time with "Matilda"
  • 1956: Calypso becomes first million-selling LP; wins first Grammy
  • 1961: Releases hit "Jump In The Line (Shake, Señora)"
  • 1963: Funds and organizes March on Washington events with MLK
  • 1987: Appointed as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador
  • 2013: Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Obama

Belafonte has packed several lifetimes worth of activism and art into his 96 years and counting! His story could inspire a dozen biopics.

5 Fascinating Facts About Harry

  1. First Televised Black Man Performer. Belafonte‘s first TV appearance was in 1949, the first time a Black man performed on television.
  2. Movie Star. In addition to music, Belafonte had a successful parallel acting career including films like Carmen Jones and Island in the Sun.
  3. Baseball Fan. He is part owner and investor in the MLB team the New York Yankees.
  4. Close Confidant to MLK. Belafonte and Dr. King were so close that MLK‘s wife Coretta Scott King said Belafonte was "like a brother who was an adviser and strategist."
  5. Huge Discography. Belafonte has released over 25 studio albums, numerous live albums and compilations, and has contributed to dozens of film soundtracks.

There are so many incredible stories and moments throughout his rich history!

Belafonte‘s Continuing Impact and Legacy

Now in his mid-90s, Harry Belafonte‘s performing and touring days may be behind him, but his influence endures and grows with each passing generation discovering his music and activism. Some key hallmarks cementing Belafonte‘s legacy include:

  • 3 Grammy Awards plus the Lifetime Achievement Award
  • A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • Kennedy Center Honors recipient (1989)
  • National Medal of the Arts honoree (1994)
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient (2013)

As long as the songs of Belafonte stream, and the cause of justice needs voices – then the man dubbed the "King of Calypso" will always have an impact. Through music and activism, Harry Belafonte changed the world profoundly for the better.