Harry Belafonte popularized calypso music with international audiences in the 1950s, who was an American singer, actor, and activist. He also joined an exclusive group of artists who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (EGOT), despite winning the Oscar in a non-competitive category.

Picture of American singer, Harry Belafonte
Caption: Picture of American singer, Harry Belafonte (Photo: Biography)

Early Life of Harry Belafonte

On March 1, 1927, Harry Belafonte was born to parents Harold George Bellanfanti, Sr, and Melvine Bellanfanti. Both of his parents came from Jamaica to the United States. His dad Harold Sr, worked as a chef, and mother, worked as a housekeeper. Belafonte received his elementary education at Wolmer's Schools while growing up in Jamaica with his grandmother.

As soon as he returned to New York, he enrolled in George Washington High School. After that, Belafonte joined the US Navy for World War II. After seeing the American Negro Theater, he subsequently fell in love with the performing arts. Around the end of the 1940s, he enrolled in the American Negro Theater and Dramatic Workshop at the New School to study acting..

Harry's Music Career in the 50s and 60s

Belafonte started singing in clubs to help pay for his acting studies. In 1949, he finally decided to start a career as a recording artist and signed with the Roost record company. He made his stage debut at the Village Vanguard jazz club in Greenwich Village with his friend Millard Thomas. Belafonte signed a contract with RCA Victor in 1953, staying with the record company for the following 20 years. His studio album "Calypso," which became the first record in the world to sell more than a million copies in a single year, helped him achieve his popular breakthrough in 1956. The CD also featured "Day-O (Banana Boat Song)," which would go on to become Belafonte's hallmark song.

Picture of Harry Belafonte signing
Caption: Picture of Harry Belafonte signing (Photo: times)

In addition to calypso music, Belafonte also recorded blues, gospel, folk, and show tunes. He released two live recordings in 1959 and 1960 captured at Carnegie Hall; the 1959 album featured his well-known rendition of the Jewish traditional ballad "Hava Nagila." In the following years, Belafonte put forth albums like "Jump Up Calypso," "Midnight Special," "Streets I Have Walked," and "Ballads, Blues, and Boasters." In addition, he enjoyed a significant working relationship with South African activist and singer Miriam Makeba, with whom he co-wrote the 1965 Grammy Award-winning album "An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba."

Further Music Career and Retirement of Belafonte

"Calypso Carnival," Belafonte's final calypso album, was released in 1971. He then had a slowdown in his music career during the decade, which was also the period when he started his global tour. When he joined the charitable ensemble USA for Africa in the middle of the 1980s, Belafonte had a comeback in his career as a musician. Additionally, he provided the musical score for "Beat Street."

Harry Belafonte posing for the picture
Caption: Harry Belafonte posing for the picture (Photo: guim)

Belafonte released "Paradise in Gazankulu," his first album of original music in more than a decade, after inking a record deal with EMI. The album, which would be Belafonte's final release, includes protest songs against South Africa's apartheid system. The Atlanta Opera charity concert in late 2003 served as Belafonte's final performance. He continued to perform throughout the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s. Not long after that, he stopped performing professionally.

Film Career of Harry

In the 1953 film "Bright Road," Belafonte made his acting debut along with costarring Dorothy Dandridge. The next year, they returned to star in Otto Preminger's popular musical film "Carmen Jones," and they did so once more for the 1957 ensemble picture "Island in the Sun." Two years later, Belafonte produced and appeared in Robert Wise's noir movie "Odds Against Tomorrow." Additionally, he had a role in the science fiction movie "The World, the Flesh, and the Devil."

Harry Belafonte posing for the picture
Caption: Harry Belafonte posing for the picture (Photo: Facebook) 

Belafonte returned to the big screen in the 1970s after a break in the 1960s to co-star with Sidney Poitier in the Western "Buck and the Preacher" and the action comedy "Uptown Saturday Night." The 1995 drama "White Man's Burden," which starred John Travolta and dealt with racism, was Belafonte's second significant leading role. He played a sexy character in Robert Altman's jazz-era crime movie "Kansas City." In addition to "BlacKkKlansman," Belafonte has roles in Emilio Estevez's "Bobby" and Spike Lee's "Bobby," both of which feature an aging civil rights icon.

Belafonte's Business Career

Bonaire is a Caribbean island that Belafonte enjoyed and often. Belnem, a portmanteau of the names of the two men, was the name of the opulent private community that he and Maurice Neme of Oranjestad, Aruba founded on Bonaire.

Harry Belafonte with his friend
Caption: Harry Belafonte with his friend (Photo: people)

The Bel-Nem Caribbean Development Corporation oversees the area. Its early directors were Belafonte and Neme. 717 individuals called Belnem their home in 2017.

Harry Belafonte Net Worth

When he passed away, Harry Belafonte's estimated net worth was $30 million. Well, he collected a hefty sum of money out of his professional career. For the following 50 or so years, Harry resided in the building and sold off flats one at a time, even to famous people like Tina Fey.

Harry Belafonte coming out of the car
Caption: Harry Belafonte coming out of the car (Photo: Pinterest)

In the year 205, he listed his unit for sale worth $15 million and sold it in 2009 to Abigail Disney for $10.75 million. Harry acquired a 3.3-acre piece of land on the Caribbean island of St. Martin in 1982. He sold this home in September 2005 for $2.2 million.

Harry Belafonte Personal Life

In his lifetime, he was married thrice. In the year 1948, Harry tied the wedding knot with his first wife, Marguerite Byrd. They became parents of two daughters, Adrienne and Shari. Sadly, they got divorced in 1957, when Byrd was pregnant with Shari. The duo's daughter founded the Anir Foundation/Experience, which focused on humanitarian work in southern Africa. Also, he had an affair with actress Joan Collins during the filming of Island in the Sun.

Harry Belafonte with Pamela Frank
Caption: Harry Belafonte with Pamela Frank (Photo: hollywoodlife)

Belafonte wed his second wife Julie Robinson, a former dancer on March 8, 1957. They became parents of two children David and Gina. Harry and Julie got divorced in 2004, following 47 years of marriage. In April 2008, Belafonte tied the wedding knot with his third wife Pamela Frank, a photographer. As a result of his relationships with Marguerite Byrd and Robinson, Belafonte had five grandchildren: Rachel, Brian, Maria, Sarafina, and Amadeus.

Harry Belafonte Death

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the year 1996. Also, he was successfully treated for the disease. In 2004, he had a stroke that left him without inner-ear balance. At the age of 96, he died from congestive heart failure at his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City. 

Harry Belafonte posing for the picture
Caption: Harry Belafonte posing for the picture (Photo: time)

On April 25, 2023, Belafonte passed away. In Hartsdale, New York's Ferncliff Cemetery and Mausoleum, he was laid to rest.