Throughout an acclaimed career spanning more than six decades, entertainer Harry Belafonte leveraged his passion and talents to champion the arts, spotlight humanitarian issues and advance justice. Born in 1927 Harlem, he moved to his mother’s native island, Jamaica. There, he embraced Caribbean culture and witnessed the impact of British colonization on the island. In his late teens, Belafonte served in the US Navy and later fell in love with performing. In 1946, he played the lead in “Days of Our Youth” at Harlem’s American Negro Theater. His understudy was Sidney Poitier.
Among Belafonte’s signature musical contributions was his 1956 version of “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” on his studio album, “Calypso.” The album sold more than 1 million copies. In 1960 Belafonte became the first African American to win an Emmy. He earned the honor for “Revlon Revue: Tonight with Belafonte.” Throughout his career, Belafonte was nominated for 11 Grammys and won 2. In 1985 he helped orchestrate the “We Are the World” supergroup single, raising awareness –and more than $50 million—for emergency famine relief in Africa.
Belafonte received many awards for his artistry and commitment to humanity across the globe including the National Medal of the Arts from US President Bill Clinton in 1994.
To honor Belafonte’s life and legacy Impact Your World presents ways you can support causes the singer and activist championed.
Fight for equity and justice
Belafonte was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was a lifelong supporter of the civil rights movement.
- Sankofa.org - Founded in 2013 by Belafonte, Sankofa.org is a civil rights organization striving to change systemic injustices. The group seeks equity through criminal justice reform, legislation, and economic action. Sankofa.org leverages the talent of visual artists, performers, and writers to promote activism and social change.
- The Gathering for Justice - The Gathering for Justice focuses on putting an “end to child incarceration” and ‘“working to eliminate the racial inequities that permeate the justice system.” Founded by Belafonte in 2005, The Gathering for Justice is rooted in the sacrifices of past civil rights leaders. The organization follows a King-inspired, nonviolent philosophy to create change and bolster civic engagement.
- UNICEF – In 1987 Belafonte was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for his longstanding commitment to humanitarian issues. The organization says Belafonte has been an “eloquent campaigner for the world’s children,” meeting with leaders and diplomats to champion UNICEF’s causes.
- The Harry Belafonte 115th Street Library is a branch of the New York Public Library in Harlem. Belafonte was born in the neighborhood in 1927, and according to library officials, became a “perfect namesake” with his commitment to “open, free and equal access to education and opportunity.”