Harry Belafonte

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Harry Belafonte at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival

Harry Belafonte (* 1. March 1927 as Harold George Bellanfanti Jr. in Harlem , New York City ) is an American singer , actor and entertainer . He is also known for his political and social engagement as a civil rights activist and UNICEF ambassador.

life and work

Harry Belafonte (February 1954)
Photograph by Carl van Vechten , from the Van Vechten Collection of the Library of Congress

Youth and education

Belafonte was born in Harlem in the New York borough of Manhattan , the son of the sailor Harold George Bellanfanti, Sr. from Martinique and the Jamaican laborer Malvene Love . He grew up there in the black ghetto and moved in 1935 with his mother and two older brothers to their home country Jamaica. In 1939 the family returned to New York, where Harry Belafonte attended George Washington High School. During the Second World War he was a member of the US Navy . After going to the theater where the black Paul Robeson appeared, he decided to become an actor. In the late 1940s, for example, he took classes at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School for Social Research , led by German director Erwin Piscator , where Tony Curtis , Marlon Brando and Walter Matthau were also studying at the same time ; Belafonte also worked as an elevator operator and salesman.

First successes

Harry Belafonte (Feb. 1954)

In 1954, Belafonte managed to establish himself as a movie star and musician, and he received his own television show. Belafonte, who began with Caribbean folk songs and calypso , developed into a versatile "world musician". He brought Miriam Makeba and the also still unknown Bob Dylan close to the US audience . With his music, he succeeded in transgressing the racial segregation that was in effect on American television until the 1960s. B. with his famous appearance with Petula Clark on NBC television . His daughters attended by German immigrant couple Max and Gertrude Bondy led Windsor Mountain School in Lenox ( Massachusetts ), one of the few co-ed and mixed-race schools that existed in the 1960s and 1970s in the US.


As an actor, Belafonte has appeared in numerous films, including a. in Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones (1955, an adaptation of Georges Bizet's opera Carmen ), Hot Earth (1957), Saturday Night in the Black Quarter (1974) or Robert Altman's Kansas City (1996), PB & J Otter - Die Rasselbande vom Hoohaw- See (1999), Bobby (2006) and many more. In recent years he has mostly worked with the director Robert Altman (1992; The Player ). He was the first black man to be awarded an Emmy in 1960 for the TV show Tonight with Belafonte .



Miriam Makeba , Harry Belafonte at "Artists for Peace" in the Ruhrstadion Bochum, 1982
Harry Belafonte and Dianne Reeves sing in 1983 in the Palace of the Republic in Berlin against NATO's double decision

1950 Belafonte received a recording contract with Capitol Records . However, he refused the commercial songs submitted to him, and the contract was terminated. So he tries a new beginning with a pure folk song repertoire, influenced by the music of the West Indies . In this context, he appeared in a New York nightclub. Belafonte delighted the audience there with his stylistic diversity and his entertainer qualities, which earned him an engagement in the famous jazz club Village Vanguard .

However, it was two years before Belafonte wrote pop history with his album Calypso and the Banana Boat song in 1956 . The Caribbean rhythms met open ears with his contemporaries and triggered a calypso boom. Belafonte was henceforth the "King of Calypso", even if he approached the sudden fame with critical distance. His album Belafonte at Carnegie Hall was in the charts for three years. Harry Belafonte rose to become one of the most famous black artists by the early 1960s. Other hits from this period are Matilda , Island in the Sun and Jamaica Farewell .

On his tours at that time, Belafonte had unknown performers such as B. Nana Mouskouri and thus contributed to their popularity. His stage program contains everything that show business has to offer - from international folklore to musicals to swing music - which is also reflected in the commercial success of his records: with over 150 million records sold, his career can be compared to that of Frank Sinatra or Elvis Compare Presley .

For his work in John Murray Anderson's Almanac (1953) he received a Tony Award and for the albums Swing That Hammer (1965) and An Evening with Makeba / Belafonte (1965) each a Grammy Award . Musically, Belafonte later left the Calypso behind. He recorded a gospel album, tried his hand at pop entertainers, and continued to indulge in his love for folk, even though the top positions in the charts were now dominated by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones .

Later successes

Harry Belafonte, 2011

In the early 1980s, Belafonte turned to Lionel Richie , Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones with the idea of recording a benefit single for the starving population in Africa. This resulted in the USA for Africa project . We Are the World was created in a session with other well-known musicians and has sold millions of copies. In 1988 Belafonte took up his own album again after a long time, Paradise in Gazankulu , and toured regularly afterwards.

Harry Belafonte and his music experienced a renaissance in the 1990s. The young generation discovers the “King of Calypso” for themselves. The Belafontes concerts became a cross-generational experience. In 2002 Belafonte published his favorite project: The Long Road to Freedom . He had already started collecting songs for his anthology of black music in 1954 - songs that trace the “long road to freedom” of those Americans who “had once come from Africa as prisoners”. These five CDs begin with war chants by the West African Ashanti from the 17th century, go through Nigerian children's songs , early spirituals , Creole choirs from the Mississippi Delta , work, prison and plantation songs , blues and gospel to the ballads of the big cities. The trip ends around 1900.

Belafonte says of today's music that he couldn't find much in it that he liked. With one exception: the rap culture. For him, the movement founded by the underprivileged black youth represents one of the most important musical forms of expression of the 21st century. “ Hip-hop culture comes from the Bronx , from the slums. Music and lyrics protested against oppression, against racism and against the fact that America's democracy does not apply to all citizens. That is what it was all about in the beginning, and it continued a great American folk tradition that we call 'People's Music'. However, the music industry, focused only on profit and money, quickly stepped in to market this new culture. This corrupted their content. She got a new face that was shaped by violence and materialism. What is interesting is that a lot of the young people I deal with now want to bring this music back to its original roots. That gives me a lot of courage. "

Politics and social engagement

Harry Belafonte (center) at the 1963 Civil Rights March in Washington DC with Sidney Poitier (l.) And Charlton Heston (r.)

Harry Belafonte became a civil rights activist at the side of his friends Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy and campaigned against apartheid and the Vietnam War . In the 1950s, for example, he supported a foundation that enabled Africans to study in the United States by awarding scholarships. One of the scholars was the Kenyan Barack Obama senior , whose son became President of the USA.

With his commitment to the black civil rights movement, his humanitarian commitment and as an activist of the peace and anti-nuclear power movement , Belafonte made a name for himself through appearances all over the world. To this day he represents socialist ideals. Belafonte also appeared at peace demonstrations in Germany and stood up for the persecuted composer Mikis Theodorakis during the time of the Greek military dictatorship .

He donated the money he earned with his coffee advertising to the Indian movement, from the first million he earned he built a hospital for the poor. Since 1987 he has been an ambassador for the goodwill of UNICEF. In 2016 he supported Bernie Sanders' candidacy in the presidential election in the United States in the primary campaign .


Harry Belafonte with his wife Pamela Frank in April 2011

Harry Belafonte has two children from his first marriage: Shari Belafonte and Adrienne Biesemeyer. In his second marriage, Harry Belafonte was married to the dancer and actress Julie Robinson-Belafonte. They have two children: David Belafonte and Gina Belafonte. He has been married to Pamela Frank for the third time since April 2008.

In January 2010 Harry Belafonte presented his long-time friend and colleague Joachim Fuchsberger with the Golden Camera as an honorary award for life's work.


  • 1983: "The people who deny us civil rights are exactly the same people who deny world peace."
  • October 2002: Colin Powell is named as Bush's "house slave".
  • December 2002 in Cuba : "It might be difficult to find a country that places more value on the culture of its people and the development of this culture than Cuba."
  • January 2006 in Venezuela : "Bush is the greatest terrorist in the world." "Millions support (the socialist) Chávez ."
  • January 2006: "We have arrived in a dark time, where the new Gestapo of the Interior Ministry lurks, where civil rights are abolished."
  • February 2007: “You are a staunch opponent of the Iraq war , you are fighting aggressively against George W. Bush .” Belafonte replied: “That is my favorite hobby. Who gives us the right to kill the people in Iraq ? Bush claims that America is hunting terrorists for the first time - terrorism is part of the American system. America destroyed an entire race , the Indians. This is terror. "
    (On February 18, 2007 in Bild am Sonntag )



year title Top ranking, total weeks, awardChart placementsChart placements
(Year, title, rankings, weeks, awards, notes)
1963 Streets I Have Walked - - US42 (18 weeks)
The big Achievements DE17 (3 weeks)
- -
1964 Belafonte at the Greek Theater - - US17 (20 weeks)
Ballads, Blues and Boasters - - US103 (7 weeks)
1965 An Evening with Belafonte / Makeba - - US85 (11 weeks)
1966 An Evening with Belafonte / Mouskouri - - US124 (8 weeks)
In My Quiet Room - - US82 (10 weeks)
1967 Calypso in brass - - US172 (2 weeks)
Belafonte on campus - - US199 (3 weeks)
1970 Homeward Bound - - US192 (2 weeks)
1975 20 golden hits - AT3 (20 weeks)
Chart entry in AT only in 1977
1977 His 20 greatest hits DE3 (5 weeks)
- -
1982 Island in the Sun DE9 (9 weeks)
- -
In Love with Harry Belafonte - 18 Romantic Songs DE44 (7 weeks)
AT11 (4 weeks)
1989 Belafonte '89 DE11 (11 weeks)
AT26 (2 weeks)
1998 An Evening with Harry Belafonte & Friends DE87 (2 weeks)
- -

gray hatching : no chart data available for this year


year Title
Top ranking, total weeks, awardChart placementsChart placements
(Year, title, album , rankings, weeks, awards, notes)
1956 Jamaica Farewell - - - US17 (26 weeks)
Mary's Boy Child - - UK1 (19 weeks)
US15 (5 weeks)
1957 Banana Boat Song DE1 (24 weeks)
- UK2 (18 weeks)
US5 (20 weeks)
Hold 'em Joe - - - US84 (4 weeks)
Mama look at Bubu - - - US13 (20 weeks)
Don't ever love me - - - US90 (2 weeks)
Cocoanut Woman DE26 (4 weeks)
- - US48 (10 weeks)
Island in the Sun DE12 (11 weeks)
- UK3 (25 weeks)
US42 (18 weeks)
Scarlet Ribbons - - UK18 (6 weeks)
with Millard Thomas
1958 Little Bernadette - - UK16 (7 weeks)
The Son of Mary - - UK18 (4 weeks)
1961 Hole in the bucket - - UK32 (8 weeks)
with Odetta
1989 Skin to skin DE73 (1 week)
AT13 (12 weeks)
- -

gray hatching : no chart data available for this year

More singles

  • Angelina
  • Come back Liza
  • Cotton Fields
  • Cu Cu Ru Cu Cu Paloma
  • Gomen Nasai
  • Gotta travel on
  • Haiti Cherie
  • Hold'em Joe
  • I'm just a country boy
  • Jump in the line
  • La Bamba
  • Matilda
  • Round the Bay of Mexico
  • Try to Remember
  • Two Brothers
  • Come Away Melinda



Harry Belafonte has received numerous awards and recognitions for his efforts:



  • Harry Belafonte, Michael Shnayerson: My Song: A Memoir . Knopf, New York 2011, ISBN 978-0-307-27226-3 .
    • German by Kristian Lutze: My Song: Die Autobiographie. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 2012, ISBN 978-3-462-04408-9 .

Conversations and interviews


Web links

Commons : Harry Belafonte  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

References and comments

  1. Harry Belafonte, with Michael Shnayerson: My Song. The autobiography Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2012, p. 25 ff.
  2. This was recommended to him by the later producer Helen Keane , who was working at the MCA agency at the time.
  3. Michael Kleff: Harry Belafonte: Anthology of black music as a life's work. Folker 2/2003, archived from the original on August 1, 2012 ; accessed on March 1, 2017 .
  4. The Guardian : Barack Obama's father on colonial list of Kenyan students in US , April 18, 2012, loaded March 8, 2017
  5. Berliner Morgenpost : The man who paved the way for Obama. , from February 20, 2017, loaded on March 8, 2017
  6. Bernie 2016: Harry Belafonte Endorses Bernie Sanders for President. February 11, 2016, accessed February 11, 2016 .
  7. smh.com.au
  8. cubanet.com ( Memento of the original from May 23, 2005 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.cubanet.org
  9. foxnews.com
  10. msnbc.msn.com
  11. a b Chart sources: Placements before 1958 DE AT UK US
  12. Honorary Degree Recipients, Berklee College of Music (English)