Harry Belafonte was born in New York City on 1 March 1927 of a Jamaican mother and a Martinique father. He was taken as a child to live in Jamaica, where he lived for five years.
He then returned to New York to attend the George Washington High School, although he never completed his education.
In 1944 he joined the US Navy for a two-year tour of duty.
After his discharge, while working as a maintenance man, Belafonte received two tickets to an American Negro Theater production – his first introduction to legitimate theatre.
He later became a member of the American Negro Theater with his very close friend, Sidney Poitier, and eventually joined the Drama Workshop. In one of the Workshop productions, Belafonte’s role called for him to sing one number.
He was asked to sing at the Royal Roost, a New York night club and signed to a two-week contract – which ran for five months!
Belafonte went on to become a popular pop singer but was unhappy and quit the industry to open a small restaurant in Greenwich Village. During an impromptu performance at the restaurant, he decided to return to show business, but as a folk singer.
In 1950 he began appearing at the Village Vanguard nightclub performing a repertoire of old and new folk ballads. This led to rave reviews, a recording contract with RCA Records, and the opportunity to appear in two motion pictures – Bright Road (1953) and Carmen Jones (1954). His third film was Island In The Sun (1957).
In 1957, Belafonte scored a notable success with the million-selling Banana Boat Song which he followed up with the singles Mama Looka Boo Boo and Mary’s Boy Child, which topped the British Hit Parade.
Devoted to the fight against injustice, Harry Belafonte became the first member of the entertainment industry to be named as a cultural adviser to the Peace Corps by President Kennedy, working closely with Peace Corps members both in America and abroad. He has been a leading architect of the civil rights movement while continuing to tour the world spreading his own kind of gospel.
Belafonte achieved widespread attention for his political views in 2002 when he began making a series of comments criticising President George W. Bush, his administration and the Iraq War.