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.