Harry Belafonte

Legendary Artist
2000

Harry Belafonte has been called both "the consummate entertainer and the consummate humanitarian." Known for his mastery of the arts as a recording artist, as well as movie, Broadway and television star and producer, Belafonte has also achieved great recognition for his advocacy for human rights around the world, seamlessly weaving artistic, social and political interests into one career. Born in Harlem, Harry Belafonte was sent to his mother's homeland of Jamaica to spend his formative years. Exposure to life on the island became a cultural reservoir upon which he drew for his artistic expression. After returning from Jamaica and a subsequent tour of duty in the Navy, Belafonte was introduced to the world of drama at the American Negro Theater in New York City. Soon after, he discovered jazz and folk music and performed his repertoire at a number of nightclubs, which led him to his first Broadway musical, "John Murray Anderson's Almanac." For this performance he won the coveted Tony Award. Belafonte then began a long and fruitful recording contract with RCA Victor. In 1955, he recorded his now famous album "Calypso" which became the first album to ever sell more than a million copies. Its success set industry standards that laid the groundwork for the Grammy Awards. In television, he won an Emmy for his stunning musical performance in "Tonight with Belafonte." In 1989, he received the Kennedy Center Honors for excellence in the performing arts. In 1994 he received the National Medal of Arts Award from President Clinton.

As Belafonte's artistic career began skyrocketing, he used his artistic talents to advocate on behalf of humanitarian efforts. A close and long-time friend of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Belafonte was the driving force that united the important cultural elements of the American civil rights movement, including  the 1963 Freedom March in Washington, D.C. President John F. Kennedy made Belafonte the first member of the entertainment industry to serve as cultural advisor to the Peace Corps, and for the next five years he traveled to many developing countries. Belafonte soon became a powerful advocate for Africa, particularly Africa's children, and helped create USA for Africa and the "We Are the World" concert to benefit African famine relief in 1985. In 1987, he was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. Belafonte also served on the board of Americans for the Arts (formerly known as the American Council for the Arts) for many years. He has four children -- Shari, Adrienne, Gina and David -- and three grandchildren -- Rachel, Brian and Maria. He lives with his wife Julie, a former dancer with the Katherine Dunham Company.