He is the first recording artist to ever sell a Million albums in sales. He is Harry Belafonte and he is now 84 years old. For more than 60 years he has been active as an actor, singer and activist. He explains in his new book called “My Song” that his road to success didn’t start easily.
Harry is tall, handsome and well spoken and black. The black part made it a little more challenging to be successful in the past decade but somehow he managed to do it., yes, be successful. He was born Harold George Belafonte Jr. in New York City to immigrant parents from the Caribbean. His family was so poor that his Mother sent him back to Jamaica for years to work there.
He returned to New York at age 17 and as a high school dropout, he joined the Navy in World War II. The Navy took him out of the rough streets of Harlem. He liked that the Navy gave him discipline; there was an objective and an enemy. He was hoping that the discrimination he had to endure would end with the end of the War.
Coming home in the 1940’s did not bring many changes after all, discrimination was still everywhere. A change came when he was a janitor at an apartment building and someone gave him 2 tickets to a theater show. He loved what he saw and took acting classes.
His classmates were as he says “Were a group of the greatest misfits he’d ever seen.” There was a guy named Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, a woman named Bea Arthur and a pretty kid named Tony Curtis. We all looked at one another and said, You’re aspiring to make it in the theater? You’ll never make it!”
Harry sang to pay for classes mostly at the famous Village Vanguard club in N.Y. He got a recording contract and in 1956 he released his album “Calypso.” The album was strange in that it was of Jamaican folk songs but went everywhere. His ”Day-O” song became very famous and revived in the Tim Burton movie, Beetlejuice made in 1988.
His voice and being so very handsome and articulate, he became a movie star in “Island in the Sun made in 1959. Even in other movies he was the romantic lead with white women but despite the obvious chemistry, he wasn’t allowed to kiss the women and most of the steamy scenes were deleted from the movies to his anger. He realized that he couldn’t change the attitude of hollywood but perhaps he could change the attitude of America.
He decided to work for social causes. Martin Luther King Jr. sought Harry and they worked together to organize the civil rights movement. When King was assonated in 1968 Harry grieved the loss of a friend. He struggled with the thought of what is next without King? Harry then threw himself into humanitarian work.
Witnessing famine in Africa, he decided to organize the gathering of some of the greatest artists to sing the “We Are The World” song to benefit world hunger. That one song raised Millions for famine relief. Lately he has been vocal about the United States foreign policy.
He is divorced twice and the father to four children. He lives now with his third wife Pamela. This singer, actor and activist to history, is a content man who is grateful to be living a full life.