Harry Belafonte

In honor of Black History Month, every school day The Cardinal will feature a prominent and historical Black American, living or dead, who has worked toward change, advancement, and/or world peace. Some of them are heroes, and some are unsung heroes, who deserve recognition, and have made a contribution to society.


Simon Morales, Senior Writer

Harry Belafonte was born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr., on March 1, 1927.  He is an American singer, activist, and actor. As arguably the most successful Jamaican-American pop star, he popularized the Trinbagonian Caribbean musical style with an international audience in the 1950s. His breakthrough album Calypso (1956) was the first million-selling LP by a single artist.  Belafonte is best known for his recordings of “The Banana Boat Song”, with its signature “Day-O” lyric.

Belafonte became an activist during the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s. While he was participating in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Belafonte was introduced to Martin Luther King, Jr. He and King became close friends and marched in several rallies together. While King traveled around the United States, Belafonte financially supported King’s wife and children, hiring babysitters for the kids and maids to clean the home. He backed the SCLC, a civil rights group led by King, raising money for the group’s Birmingham Campaign, which provided bail to those who were jailed for their activism.

After King was incarcerated at Alabama’s Birmingham Jail, Belafonte, organizing charity concerts and fundraisers, collected $50,000 for the Birmingham Campaign to bail the civil rights leader out of jail. Belafonte served as an organizer for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Hoping to bring more attention to the event, Belafonte, using his high-profile connections in Hollywood, recruited a large celebrity representative to attend the March on Washington; flying them to Washington, D.C. through a charter flight that he had arranged. He said his job was to convince the icons in the arts that they needed to have a presence. Throughout that era, Belafonte continued doing good deeds like the ones mentioned, becoming one of MLK’s closest confidants and helping large communities with his activism.

In 2022, Belafonte was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the Early Influence category and is the oldest living person to have received the honor.