Known for his popularization of Calypso music, Harry Belafonte was a singer, actor, and activist who put his heart into all of his works. From the music industry to politics, his impact has always been significant. He will not only be remembered for his music and movies but also for his role in fighting racial stereotypes and being an important part of the Civil Rights Movement.
Born on March 1st, 1927, to Jamaican parents, Harry was brought up and raised in Jamaica and NYC. He provided his service in World War II and returned to NYC to work as a Janitor’s assistant. That’s when he was given theatre tickets for the first time, a gift that ended up molding his life into what we know it as now. Harry immediately fell in love with music and theatre and started pursuing an acting career. To support his acting classes, he started to work as a singer at one of NYC’s clubs.
While working as a singer, Belafonte’s interest in folk music grew each day, and he came out with his most successful album, Calypso, in 1956; it became the most-sold LP within a few months, hitting almost one million copies that year. American audiences had heard this music style that originated in Trinidad and Tobago for the first time, and interest in Belafonte’s music grew rapidly. He eventually started releasing music that included genres such as Gospel, Blues, and many more styles.
As his music career became more famous, it helped Harry get ahold of many new roles in films that were harder for him to obtain at first. He starred in his first film in 1953, titled Bright Road, which was later followed by a role in Carmen Jones. Other prominent projects involving Harry Belafonte include Island In The Sun and Odds Against Tomorrow.
Harry Belafonte Controversy Explained:
During his prime in both the music and film industries, Belafonte became a well-known name in America and other countries. In the year 1968, he was cast in a Television special on NBC that was hosted by Petula Clark, an English singer.
While both of them were absorbed in performing On The Path Of Glory, Petula held Harry’s arm until the performance ended. This ended up infuriating Doyle Lott, who was involved in the production as its sponsor. He refused to use the footage and asked the singers to film the song once again, to which Petula showed resistance.
Clark had the ownership of the special, and seeing Doyle’s racist actions, she informed that if he deleted the previously filmed special, she would not allow it to be aired at all. Doyle was later fired by Plymouth Motors, and the special was aired successfully. The controversy attracted many viewers, and Petula’s actions were greatly appreciated. Their performance of On The Path Of Glory was well sung and caused the program to receive well-deserved high ratings.
Although it may not seem as dramatic or spicy as the controversies we see today, this single decision by Petula had a great impact on the racial discrimination that was still lurking within the industry back in the 60s. Harry himself had to take a break from the film industry as the roles he was receiving were mostly based on stereotypes. He focused on his music career and later started giving back to the world by becoming a UNICEF ambassador. The last movie that Belafonte performed is BlacKkKlansman which was released in 2018 and was directed by Spike Lee.
Harry Belafonte’s Demise: How Did The Singer Die?
The singer passed away on April 25th, 2023, due to Congestive Heart Failure. He was 96 at the time and lived with his third wife, Pamela Frank, in Manhattan, NYC. Belafonte leaves behind a legacy of great music that connected two different parts of the world as well as his impactful work in the 1950s to 1990s that brought into light the lesser-known issues of the American film society. He was one of the best Black actors of his time and will be continued to be remembered as a fighter against discrimination and racism.
Harry Belafonte was a barrier-breaking legend who used his platform to lift others up. He lived a good life – transforming the arts while also standing up for civil rights. And he did it all with his signature smile and style. Michelle and I send our love to his wife, kids, and… pic.twitter.com/g77XCr9U5b
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 25, 2023
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