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Harry Belafonte
Entertainer and Humanitarian

First singer ever to sell one million record albums.

Joining Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement.

At a school in Kenya helping to improve education in Africa.

Harry Belafonte was born in Harlem, in New York City, in 1927.  His parents were West Indian.  The family was poor and his mother sent Harry back to live in Kingston, Jamaica when he was 8 years old.  As a grown man, he never forgot the difficulties of his childhood.  He has traveled around the world for the United Nations helping to improve education and fight poverty and the spread of AIDS. 

Harry returned to New York when he was 13 to go to George Washington High School.  He enlisted in the Navy when he was 17.  He wanted to be an actor and joined the American Negro Theater, where he first met Sidney Poitier.  The two men had similar backgrounds.  Sidney Poitier was born in Miami and raised in the Bahamas.  He became the first black actor to win an Oscar.  Harry Belafonte has starred in plays and films, but he felt that there were not enough good parts offered to black actors and so he turned to singing.

He went to Florida to perform in a nightclub in 1950.  He would always remember the segregation laws that kept blacks separated from whites in the South at that time.  He said, "In those days Miami had curfews for Negroes. I had to have special transportation after hours, special accommodations, special bathrooms, special everything. To cross from the colored section of town to the white, I had to show a pass. I began to think. Why should I be giving up my rights and dignity for this kind of thing."

Later in his life he marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and made speeches during the civil rights movement to get the segregation laws changed.  He continues to speak out to help people all over the world.

Harry Belafonte became a great success as a singer and his most popular songs came from the West Indies.  In 1956 he recorded the album Calypso with Day-O, the Banana Boat Song, and Jamaica Farewell.  It was the first album in history to sell one million copies.  

His concerts are still sold out today and he uses his recording company to introduce new music and performers to worldwide audiences.

He has continued to be a human rights activist.  He was a cultural adviser to the Peace Corps under President John F. Kennedy.  He was chairman of the New York State Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.  He was a founder of the Institute for Non-Violence.  He was named to the Board of Directors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  He was appointed United Nations Goodwill Ambassador and hosted the World Summit for Children. When Nelson Mandela, the President of South Africa, visited the United States, Harry Belafonte was assigned to greet him.

He has always tried to find peaceful solutions to problems and he spoke out against going to war with Iraq. "Go through the United Nations and follow the counsels and principles of the international community," he said. "Stop bullying the world."

You can learn more about Harry Belafonte at these web sites.