Harry was born in Harlem in 1927 and from the ages of 5 until 13 he lived in Jamaica with his grandmother. He attended high school in New York City and then served in the Navy during World War II. After the war, while working as a janitor’s assistant, a tenant gave him two tickets to the theater as a tip. He not only fell in love with the theater because of this fateful encounter, he also met Sidney Poitier. The two became fast friends and due to their financial hardships, would often purchase single seats to local plays, trading places in between acts and filling each other in on the progression of the story line.
At the tail end of the 40s he studied under famed German director Erwin Piscator alongside the likes of Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis and his old buddy Sidney Poitier. During this time, he performed with the American Negro Theatre and received a Tony award for his role in “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.”
He also began his career in music around this time. His backing band for his first appearance in front of an audience featured the legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, whose band also included Miles Davis and Max Roach. While he started his music career as a pop singer, he soon developed an interest in folk music and made his debut as a folksinger at the Village Vanguard. Eventually he landed a recording contract with RCA Victor and released his breakthrough album “Calypso” in 1956, which was the first LP to sell over 1 million copies. The album also introduced calypso music to American audiences and the “Banana Boat Song” would forever be associated with Belanfonte who was dubbed the “King of Calypso.”
His career after this would include recording music from a wide variety of genres including blues, gospel and show tunes and introducing audiences to artists such as Odetta, South African singer Miram Makeba, Greek singer Nana Mouskouri and a then-unknown harmonica player named Bob Dylan.
He also became a vocal advocate for humanitarian and civil rights causes including the political struggles of black South Africans and the American Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s. He was one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest confidants and he raised thousands of dollars to release King and other civil rights protesters from the Birmingham Jail. He also funded the Freedom Rides and helped to organize the 1963 March of Washington.
This is just a sampling of all the many accomplishments Mr. Belafonte has achieved throughout his incredible life and this Wednesday is a rare opportunity to hear about his fascinating life from his own mouth. This is not to be missed Atlanta. This is a rare opportunity to be in the presence of a true living legend. Surprisingly, tickets are still available so get yours here before they’re gone!