Harry Belafonte was born in Harlem in New York City in 1927. Overwhelmed and intimidated by its ghetto streets and thinking the islands to be a safer place, his immigrant mother sent him back to the island of her birth, Jamaica. The island and all its variety became his cultural reservoir.
Unable to finish high school, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served for almost two years as a munitions loader. After his tour of duty ended, he was honorably discharged and returned to New York City where he worked both in the garment center and as a janitor’s assistant.
For doing repairs in an apartment (of Clarice Taylor and Maxwell Glanville), Belafonte was given, as his gratuity, a ticket to a production of Home is the Hunter at a community theatre in Harlem – the American Negro Theatre (A.N.T.). The world that the theatre opened up to him put Belafonte, for the first time, face to face with what would be his destiny – a life in the performing arts. He joined the Dramatic Workshop of the New School of Social Research under the tutelage of the renowned German director, Erwin Piscator. With classmates like Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur, Rod Steiger and Tony Curtis – just to name a few – Belafonte became thoroughly immersed in the world of theatre. Paralleling this pursuit was his interest and love of jazz. He developed a relationship with the young architects of the art form, the geniuses of modern jazz, and on the occasion of his first professional appearance, he had Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Tommy Potter and Al Haig as his “back-up band”. Since that launching, Belafonte has sustained an inordinately successful career.
Belafonte was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to be the cultural advisor for the Peace Corps. He served for five years.
Belafonte has four children – Adrienne, Shari, David, and Gina. He boasts of seven grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Mr. Belafonte resides in New York City with his wife Pamela