Harry Belafonte – A Music Legend and Humanitarian

Harry Belafonte – A Music Legend and Humanitarian




Harry Belafonte is a prominent singer, actor, and social activist who is best known for his music and his contributions to social justice causes. Born in Harlem, New York, in 1927, Harry Belafonte began his career as a singer in the 1950s and went on to become one of the most successful artists of his time. However, he also used his platform to advocate for social and political change, working tirelessly to promote equality and human rights around the world. This article will explore Harry Belafonte’s life and career, focusing on his music, his social work, and his legacy.

  • Harry Belafonte’s Music Career

Early Life and Career:

Harry Belafonte was born in Harlem, New York, on March 1, 1927. He grew up in poverty and experienced racism and discrimination firsthand. However, he was able to attend high school and later college, where he studied drama. After college, he worked as a janitor and a dishwasher before beginning his career as a singer.

Rise to Fame and Popular Songs:

Harry Belafonte’s big break came in 1956 when he released his album “Calypso,” which featured his hit song “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O).” The album became a huge success, selling over a million copies and making Harry Belafonte an overnight sensation. He continued to record and perform music, releasing albums such as “Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean,” “Belafonte at Carnegie Hall,” and “Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall.” He also became known for his collaborations with other artists, including Miriam Makeba, Odetta, and Julie Andrews.

Collaborations and Awards:

Harry Belafonte’s collaborations with other artists were a hallmark of his career. He worked with Miriam Makeba on the album “An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba,” which focused on issues of racial inequality and apartheid in South Africa. He also worked with Odetta, an American folk singer, on the album “Belafonte/At Play,” which blended traditional American folk songs with calypso and other styles. Harry Belafonte won numerous awards for his music, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a Kennedy Center Honor, and a National Medal of Arts.

  • Harry Belafonte’s Social Work

Civil Rights Movement:

Harry Belafonte was a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. He worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists to promote racial equality and social justice. He used his platform as a musician to raise awareness about issues of inequality and injustice, and he helped organize numerous civil rights rallies and events. He also participated in the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where he introduced Martin Luther King Jr. to the crowd and led them in singing “We Shall Overcome.”

Humanitarian Efforts:

In addition to his work in the Civil Rights Movement, Harry Belafonte was also involved in numerous humanitarian causes around the world. He was a supporter of UNICEF and served as their Goodwill Ambassador for over a decade. He used his influence and resources to support various humanitarian causes such as disaster relief, healthcare, and education. He also founded the The Gathering for Justice, a nonprofit organization that works to end child incarceration and racial inequality.

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador:

Harry Belafonte’s work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador was particularly noteworthy. He traveled to numerous countries around the world, including countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, to raise awareness about issues such as child hunger, disease, and education. He also helped establish the “We Are the World” project in the 1980s, which brought together dozens of musicians to raise money for famine relief in Africa.

  • Harry Belafonte’s Legacy

Impact on Music and Activism:

Harry Belafonte’s impact on both music and activism cannot be overstated. His music helped to introduce the world to calypso and other Caribbean styles, and he was a pioneer in the world music movement. His collaborations with other artists helped to break down racial and cultural barriers and promote understanding and unity. He also used his platform to advocate for social and political change, and he was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement.

Humanitarianism and Philanthropy:

Harry Belafonte’s work as a humanitarian and philanthropist also had a lasting impact. His support for UNICEF and other organizations helped to improve the lives of countless children around the world. He also founded The Gathering for Justice, which continues to work to end child incarceration and racial inequality.

Awards and Recognition:

Harry Belafonte’s contributions to music, activism, and humanitarianism have been widely recognized. He has received numerous awards and honors throughout his career, including the National Medal of Arts, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Kennedy Center Honor. He was also awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2014.

Belafonte’s Family Life:

Harry Belafonte’s family life has been marked by both joy and tragedy. He was married three times and has four children. His first marriage to Marguerite Byrd ended in divorce, but they remained close friends until her death in 1998. Belafonte’s second marriage to dancer Julie Robinson produced two children, but also ended in divorce. His third marriage to photographer Pamela Frank produced two more children and has lasted over 30 years. However, Belafonte also experienced the loss of his daughter Shari, who died of breast cancer in 1998 at the age of 36. Despite these challenges, Belafonte’s family has remained an important source of support and inspiration for him throughout his life and career.


On 25th April, 2023, due to congestive heart failure, Harry Belafonte journeyed to the Eternal Abode of Peace. Although, he is no more with us physically, his contributions in society, against inequality, and in the field of music, will continue to influence immensely for many years to come.


Harry Belafonte’s life and career are a testament to the power of music and activism to effect social and political change. His music and collaborations helped to break down barriers and promote understanding, while his advocacy work and philanthropy helped to improve the lives of countless people around the world. Belafonte’s impact on music, activism, and humanitarianism will continue to be felt for generations to come. His legacy is a reminder of the power of art and activism to create positive change in the world. As he once said, “I have always been driven by a sense of justice and the power of music to move people.” Harry Belafonte’s life and work are a testament to that power and a source of inspiration for all who seek to make a difference in the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *