Harry Belafonte facts: Calypso singer's age, wife, children and songs revealed

9 July 2020, 15:42

Harry Belafonte in 1956
Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Harry Belafonte is one of the world's most celebrated singers of all time, from his days as the 'King of Calypso' to his career as an activist.

Now into his 90s, Harry Belafonte is still active, appearing in films and using his voice as a humanitarian and standing up for civil rights.

Here are all the important facts about the legendary star:

  1. Who is Harry Belafonte?

    Harry Belafonte
    Harry Belafonte. Picture: Getty

    Harry Belafonte is a Jamaican-American singer, songwriter, activist, and actor.

    He is known as one of the most successful Jamaican-American singers in history, and was nicknamed the 'King of Calypso' for popularizing the Caribbean musical style around the world in the 1950s.

    He has performed in many music genres, including blues, folk, gospel, musicals, and American standards.

    He is also an actor, appearing in several films, including Carmen Jones (1954), Island in the Sun (1957), and Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

  2. When did he become an activist?

    Harry Belafonte with Martin Luther King
    Harry Belafonte with Martin Luther King. Picture: Getty

    Belafonte's political beliefs were inspired by singer and Communist activist Paul Robeson, who mentored him. Robeson opposed not racial prejudice in the United States and western colonialism in Africa.

    Harry Belafonte was an early supporter of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s and was a close confidant of Martin Luther King Jr.

    He has been an advocate for various political and humanitarian causes, such as the Anti-Apartheid Movement and USA for Africa.

    Since 1987, he has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. He also acts as the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.

    In 2001, he travelled to South Africa to support the campaign against HIV/AIDS. In 2004, Belafonte went to Kenya to highlight the importance of educating children in the country.

    Belafonte has also been involved in prostate cancer advocacy since 1996, when he was diagnosed and successfully treated for the disease.

  3. How old is Harry Belafonte?

    Harry Belafonte in 2017
    Harry Belafonte in 2017. Picture: Getty

    Harry Belafonte was born on March 1, 1927. He celebrated his 93rd birthday in 2020.

    He was born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr, in Harlem, New York. He was the son of Melvine (née Love), a housekeeper, and Harold George Bellanfanti Sr, a chef.

    His mother was born in Jamaica, and was the child of a Scottish white mother and a black father.

    His father also was born in Jamaica, and was the child of a black mother and Dutch Jewish father of Sephardi origins.

  4. Is Harry Belafonte married and does he have any children?

    Harry Belafonte with second wife Julie Robinson and son David in 1959
    Harry Belafonte with second wife Julie Robinson and son David in 1959. Picture: Getty

    Belafonte was married to Marguerite Byrd from 1948 to 1957. They have two daughters: Adrienne and Shari.

    Adrienne and her daughter Rachel Blue later founded the Anir Foundation/Experience, which focuses on humanitarian work in southern Africa. Shari is a photographer, model, singer, and actress.

    In 1957, Belafonte married his second wife Julie Robinson, a former dancer. They had two children, David and Gina. After 47 years of marriage, Belafonte and Robinson divorced.

    Harry Belafonte with daughters Shari and Gina, with Malcolm X's daughter Attilah Shabazz (right)
    Harry Belafonte with daughters Shari and Gina, with Malcolm X's daughter Attilah Shabazz (right). Picture: Getty

    David, Belafonte's only son, is a former model and actor and is an Emmy-winning and Grammy nominated music producer. He is the executive director of the family-held company Belafonte Enterprises Inc.

    Gina Belafonte is a TV and film actress, who helped found The Gathering For Justice, a non-profit organization working to reintroduce nonviolence.

    In April 2008, Belafonte married photographer Pamela Frank.

    Harry Belafonte and wife Pamela Frank in 2016
    Harry Belafonte and wife Pamela Frank in 2016. Picture: Getty
  5. What are his most famous songs?

    Harry Belafonte started his career in music as a club singer in New York, helping to pay for his acting classes.

    The first time he performed in front of an audience, was when he was backed by the Charlie Parker band, which featured Charlie Parker, Max Roach and Miles Davis, among others.

    Perhaps his most famous song is his version of 'Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)', a traditional Jamaican song.

    He also scored a top 5 hit in the UK with 'Island in the Sun', and had a Christmas number one in 1959 with his version of 'Mary's Boy Child'.