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Harry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte has been called 'the consummate entertainer': a concert singer, a recording artist, a movie star, a Broadway and television star and a producer. Belafonte's activity in the human rights struggle is equally respected. His awards and recognitions encompass both worlds, as artist and humanitarian.

Belafonte was born in Harlem in New York City. It wasn't until he was called upon to star in the American Negro Theatre production of Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock, that Belafonte knew that acting would be his career. He then joined the Dramatic Workshop of the New School of Social Research under the tutelage of the great German director, Erwin Piscator, and with classmates such as Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur, Rod Steiger and Tony Curtis.

A succession of nightclub performances led to Broadway and his first musical, John Murray Anderson's Almanac. His reviews were astounding and the young singer won the coveted Tony Award for his performance. A few months later, Belafonte entered into a long and productive recording contract with RCA Victor. In 1955, Belafonte recorded his third album, Calypso, which became the first album in history to ever sell over one million copies. Night clubs, recordings, Broadway and concert halls soon gave way to an overture from Hollywood and Belafonte's first film, Bright Road, He went to star in Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones and then such notable films as The World, the Flesh and the Devil, ‘Odds Against Tomorrow, The Angel Levine, Uptown Saturday Night and Island in the Sun (for which he co-authored the title song), Kansas City and White Man's Burden starring with John Travolta. In Robert Altman's Kansas City, Belafonte portrayed one of his favorite roles, Seldom Seen, for which he was voted Best Supporting actor by the New York Film Critics' Circle. He also acted as executive producer of the recent HBO's The Affair; and as executive producer with Jon Avnet and Taylor Branch for the miniseries based on Branch's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Parting the Waters. For television, Belafonte teamed up with Norman Jewison, to produce the musical epic Tonight with Belafonte, garnering Belafonte an Emmy Award for his performance. The first African-American producer in television, Belafonte's company went on to produce one Emmy-nominated success after another including The Strollin' Twenties, written by Langston Hughes and starring Sidney Poitier, Diahann Carroll, Sammy Davis Jr. and Duke Ellington; and A Time for Laughter, starring such then little-known humorists as Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley and Pigmeat Markham. Belafonte has also dedicated his life to uniting people and doing battle for causes. In 1960, he was named by President John F. Kennedy as cultural advisor to the Peace Corps, serving in that capacity for five years. He then became a driving force in the Civil Rights movement, developing a deep and abiding friendship with Martin Luther King. Belafonte was named to the Board of Directors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and at Dr. King's death, he became one of three executors of the great leader's estate. Later, Belafonte was appointed by Mario Cuomo as chairperson for the New York State Martin Luther King Jr. Commission. He served for seven years, during which time he and his staff created the Martin Luther King Jr. Institute for Nonviolence.

Belafonte has been honored many times and his awards include The Albert Einstein Award from Yeshiva University, in 1981; the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Prize; the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors for excellence in the performing arts; and the Acorn Award from the Bronx Community College for his work with children. He was the first recipient of the Nelson Mandela Courage Award and was honored with the 1994 National Medal of Arts from President Clinton.

In 1987, Belafonte accepted the appointment as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. For the past several years, Belafonte has continued to devote himself globally to civil and human rights issues, focusing in particular on the United States and South Africa.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2006.
Read earlier biographies on this page.

Harry Belafonte Facts

Birth NameHarold George Belafonte Jr.
BirthdayMarch 1, 1927 (96)
BirthplaceNew York, New York, USA

Selected Filmography

Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley
Uptown Saturday Night
Buck and the Preacher
Soundtrack for a Revolution
King: A Filmed Record... From Montgomery to Memphis
White Man's Burden
Carmen Jones
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