Activist and entertainer Harry Belafonte is one of the most celebrated Jamaican-American musicians in history.
A three-time Grammy Award winner, his album Calypso was the first by a single artist to sell over a million LP records.
Born in Harlem, he spent much of his childhood in Jamaica before returning to New York. Unable to finish high school, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served for almost two years as a munitions loader. After his tour of duty ended, he was honorably discharged and returned to New York City where he worked both in the garment center and as a janitor's assistant.
For doing repairs in an apartment, Belafonte was given, as his gratuity, a ticket to at a community theatre in Harlem - the American Negro Theatre. The world that the theatre opened up to him put Belafonte, for the first time, face to face with what would be his destiny -- a life in the performing arts. He joined the Dramatic Workshop of the New School of Social Research under the tutelage of the renowned German director, Erwin Piscator. With classmates like Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur, Rod Steiger and Tony Curtis -- just to name a few -- Belafonte became thoroughly immersed in the world of theatre. Paralleling this pursuit was his interest and love of jazz. He developed a relationship with the young architects of the art form, the geniuses of modern jazz, and on the occasion of his first professional appearance, he had Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Tommy Potter and Al Haig as his "back-up band".
An activist in the civil rights movement, Belafonte developed a deep friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr., who praised his “courage and moral integrity."
Disturbed by cruel events unfolding in Africa due to war, drought, and famine, Belafonte set in motion the wheels that led to "We Are the World" on January 28, 1985. He contacted manager, Ken Kragen, and they, along with others, guided and directed the project known as USA for Africa.
Belafonte was prominent in the contribution to the ending of the oppressive apartheid government of South Africa and for the release of his friend, Nelson Mandela after twenty-seven years of incarceration.
Belafonte was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to be the cultural advisor for the Peace Corps, he has also served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
In recent years, Belafonte has continued to devote himself globally to civil and human rights issues, focusing in particular on the United States and Africa.
Belafonte has been honored by such groups including the American Jewish Congress, the NAACP, the City of Hope, Fight for Sight, The Urban League, The National Conference of Black Mayors, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the ACLU, the State Department, the Boy Scouts of America, Hadassah International and the Peace Corps. He has received awards such as The Albert Einstein Award from Yeshiva University, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Prize, the Acorn Award from the Bronx Community College for his work with children, and, in 1989, he received the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors for excellence in the performing arts.
He was the first recipient of the Nelson Mandela Courage Award and was honored at the White House with the 1994 National Medal of Arts from President Clinton for his contributions to our nation's cultural life. He has received honorary degrees from City University of New York, Spelman College in Atlanta, Tufts University, Brandeis University, Long Island University, Bard College and most recently Doctor of Humane Letters from Columbia University and many others.
Belafonte lives in New York City with his wife, Pamela. He has four children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.