Harold George Belafonte, Jr. (born March 1, 1927 in Harlem, New York, United States) is a Jamaican-American musician, actor and social activist. One of the most successful American musicians in history, he was dubbed the "King of Calypso" for popularizing the Caribbean musical style. Throughout his career, he has been an advocate for civil rights and humanitarian causes. In recent years (as of 2006), he has been a vocal critic of the policies of the Bush administration.
Youth and early career
From 1935 to 1939, he lived with his mother in the village of Aboukir in her native country of Jamaica. When he returned to New York he attended George Washington High School after which he joined the Navy and served during World War II. At the end of the 1940s, he took classes in acting and subsequently received a Tony Award for his participation in John Murray Anderson's Almanac. He starred in several films during the 1950s. These include the all black cast Carmen Jones and the then controversial, Island in the Sun, for which he wrote and sang the title song.
Belafonte is perhaps best known for singing the "Banana Boat Song," with its signature lyric "Day-O".
Belafonte received a contract with RCA Victor and his breakthrough album Calypso (1956) was the first LP to sell over 1 million copies (Bing Crosby's White Christmas and Tennessee Ernie Ford's Sixteen Tons, both singles, had previously surpassed the 1 million mark). The album is number four on Billboard's "Top 100 Album" list for having spent 31 weeks at number 1, 58 weeks in the top ten, and 99 weeks on the US charts. While primarily known for his Calypso songs, Belafonte has recorded in many genres, including blues, folk, gospel, show tunes, and American standards.
Belafonte continued to record for RCA through the 1950s to the 1970s. Two live albums, both recorded at Carnegie Hall, enjoyed critical and commercial success. His output in the 1970s slowed, and he released only one studio album in the 1980s, coinciding with a stronger focus on politics and activism. In the late 1990s he released a live album and DVD. The Long Road to Freedom, An Anthology of Black Music, a huge multi-artist project recorded during the 1960s and 1970s, was finally released in 2001.
Belafonte was the first man of color to win an Emmy, with his first solo TV special Tonight with Belafonte (1959). He was also a guest star on a memorable episode of The Muppet Show in 1978, in which he sang his signature song "Day-O" on television for the very first time. However, the episode is best known for Belafonte singing the spiritual song, "Turn the World Around," that is performed with muppets designed like African tribal masks. It has become one of the most famous performances in the series.
He won a Grammy Award in 2000 for lifetime achievement, and was named one of nine 2006 Impact Award recipients by AARP The Magazine.
Political and humanitarian activism
Belafonte was an early supporter of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and one of Martin Luther King's confidants.
In 1968, Belafonte appeared on a Petula Clark primetime television special on NBC. In the middle of a song, Clark smiled and briefly touched Belafonte's arm, which made the show's sponsor, Plymouth Motors, nervous. Plymouth wanted to cut out the segment, but Clark, who had ownership of the special, told NBC that the performance would be shown intact or she would not allow the special to be aired. American newspapers published articles reporting the controversy and, when the special aired, it grabbed high viewing figures. Clark's gesture marked the first time in which two people of different races made friendly bodily contact on US television.
Belafonte appeared on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and performed a controversial "Mardi Gras" number with footage intercut from the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots.
In 1985, he was one of the organizers behind the Grammy Award winning song "We Are The World," a multi-artist effort to raise funds for Africa, and performed in the Live Aid concert that same year.
In 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador. In 2002, Africare awarded him the Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award for his efforts to assist Africa.
Belafonte has been involved in prostate cancer advocacy since 1996, when he was diagnosed and successfully treated for the disease.
In 2006, on June 27, Belafonte was the recipient of the BET Humanitarian Award at the 2006 BET Awards
Controversial political statements
Belafonte began making controversial political statements in the early 1980s. He has, at various times, made statements praising Soviet peace initiatives, attacking the U.S. invasion of Grenada, praising the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, honoring Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and praising Fidel Castro.
Belafonte only achieved widespread attention for his political views, however, in 2002, when he began making a series of comments about President George W. Bush, catalyzed by Belafonte's disapproval of the Iraq War.
During an interview with Ted Leitner for San Diego's 760 KFMB, in October 2002, Belafonte referenced a quote made by the American civil rights era icon Malcolm X :
Belafonte used the quote to characterize both former and current United States Secretary of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, both African-Americans, as "house slaves" for serving in Bush's cabinet, which he implied was racist, and for their refusal to stand against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He was implying that, by going along with Bush's plans, the two were only serving the cause of their "master". He repeated the charge on an interview on Larry King Live. Powell and Rice both responded, with Powell calling the remarks "unfortunate"  and Rice saying "I don't need Harry Belafonte to tell me what it means to be black."  The comment was brought back up in an interview with Amy Goodman for Democracy Now! in 2006. 
In August 2005, Belafonte made a similar analogy by saying "Hitler had a lot of Jews high up in the hierarchy of the Third Reich."
In January of 2006, Belafonte led a delegation of activists including actor Danny Glover and activist/professor Cornel West which met with President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez. Belafonte was quoted as saying, "No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush says, we're here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people... support your revolution."
The comment ignited a great deal of controversy. Hillary Clinton refused to acknowledge his presence at an awards ceremony that featured both of them. AARP, which had just named him one of their 10 Impact Award honorees 2006, released a statement following the remarks, saying, "AARP does not condone the manner and tone which he has chosen and finds his comments completely unacceptable."
On a Martin Luther King Day speech at Duke University in 2006, Belafonte claimed he found no difference between the American government and the hijackers of 9/11, saying, "What is the difference between that terrorist and other terrorists?"
In January 2006, in a speech to the annual meeting of the Arts Presenters Members Conference, Belafonte said, "We've come to this dark time in which the new Gestapo lurks here, where citizens are having their rights suspended."
He recently signed a public statement comparing George W. Bush to Hitler and calling for his "regime" to be driven from power.
His daughter, Shari Belafonte, is a photographer, model and actress.
His older daughter, Adrienne Biesemeyer, is an accomplished psychologist and former professor at Concord University in Athens, West Virginia.
References in popular culture