Friday, April 23, 2010

My Icons: King of Calypso

Icon: Harry Belafonte
American singer, actor, social activist

“When I was born, I was colored. I soon became a Negro. Not long after that I was black. Most recently I was African-American. It seems we're on a roll here. But I am still first and foremost in search of freedom.”
-Harry Belafonte

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Jamaica Farewell



Dubbed the King of Calypso at the height of his career, Harry Belafonte brought the sounds of the Caribbean to the mainstream and became one of the most popular performers of his time. Belafonte is perhaps best known for performing the Banana Boat Song with its signature Day-O lyrics. Though most of his career centered around music, he also had an acting career and was a beacon in the struggle for civil rights. Belafonte's activisim wasn't limited to black civil rights on US soil, as he was a strong opponent of colonialism in Africa. Eventually becoming the first black man to win an Emmy for his his first solo TV special Tonight with Belafonte (1959), he modeled himself after other performers of the era who excelled at their craft and still made a mark in the social activism scene. Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson were two controversial figures from which Belafonte drew inspiration. Most recently, he was a strong voice against the George W. Bush administration and even likened Secretaries of State Powell and Rice to house slaves. Having been blacklisted in the McCarthy era and a close friend of Martin Luther King, Jr, Belafonte is no stranger to controversy and should be known for far more than the King of Calypso, but as being a great humanitarian.

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Harry Belafonte with Nat King Cole