Harry Belafonte: The Cultural Icon Who Used Music for Social Change

Harry Belafonte: The Cultural Icon Who Used Music for Social Change: Harry Belafonte is a legendary musician, actor, and social activist known for his powerful voice, vibrant personality, and unwavering commitment to fighting for social justice. Over the course of his career, Belafonte has used his platform as an entertainer to raise awareness about civil rights issues, apartheid, and humanitarian causes around the world. In this article, we will explore Belafonte’s life, music, and activism, and highlight some of his most significant contributions to the social justice movement.

Early Life and Career

Harry Belafonte was born on March 1, 1927, in Harlem, New York. His mother was a Jamaican immigrant, and his father was of Martinican descent. Belafonte grew up in poverty and had a difficult childhood, but he found solace in music. He began performing in nightclubs in the 1940s, and his unique blend of Caribbean and American music soon caught the attention of audiences and record labels alike. In 1956, Belafonte released his breakthrough album, Calypso, which became the first album by a single artist to sell over one million copies.

Music and Social Activism

Belafonte’s music was not only commercially successful, but it also had a powerful social and political message. He used his songs to raise awareness about civil rights issues, apartheid in South Africa and other global humanitarian causes. In the 1950s and 1960s, Belafonte became a prominent figure in the civil rights movement, working closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders to promote equality and justice for African Americans.

One of Belafonte’s most famous songs, “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)”, became an anthem for the labor movement and was often sung at civil rights rallies and protests. He also recorded an album called “Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean,” which showcased the music and culture of his Caribbean heritage and helped to introduce calypso music to a wider audience.

Humanitarian Work

In addition to his music and activism, Belafonte has also been a tireless advocate for humanitarian causes around the world. He has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 1987, and he has worked to raise awareness about issues such as poverty, hunger, and HIV/AIDS. He has also been involved in efforts to promote peace and justice in Africa and the Middle East.

Belafonte has received numerous awards and honors for his humanitarian work, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize, the Nelson Mandela Courage Award, and the National Medal of Arts. In 2013, he received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Academy Awards ceremony in recognition of his lifetime of service to humanity.

Harry Belafonte Songs

Harry Belafonte is a legendary musician known for his distinctive voice and his unique blend of Caribbean and American music. Here are some of his most famous songs:

“Banana Boat Song (Day-O)”: This song, which features Belafonte’s signature call-and-response style, is one of his most well-known hits. It was originally a Jamaican folk song, but Belafonte popularized it in the United States and around the world.

“Jamaica Farewell”: This song, written by Lord Burgess, is another classic Belafonte tune that showcases his Caribbean roots. It’s a sentimental ballad about saying goodbye to the island of Jamaica.

“Matilda”: This calypso-style song tells the story of a woman who steals a man’s money and runs away. It’s a playful and catchy tune that has become a staple of Belafonte’s live performances.

“Island in the Sun”: This romantic ballad was written for the film of the same name, in which Belafonte starred. It’s a beautiful song that captures the essence of the Caribbean and has become a classic in its own right.

“Jump in the Line”: This lively and upbeat song features Belafonte’s energetic vocals and a catchy melody. It was later covered by The Blues Brothers and has become a beloved party song.

These are just a few examples of the many great songs in Harry Belafonte’s catalog. His music continues to inspire and entertain audiences around the world, and his legacy as a cultural icon and social activist is secure.


Harry Belafonte’s music and activism have had a profound impact on the world. He used his platform as an entertainer to raise awareness about social and political issues, and he has dedicated his life to fighting for justice and equality for all people. Belafonte’s legacy serves as an inspiration for future generations to use their talents and voices to create positive change in the world.

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