What is Harry Belafonte’s Net Worth?
Harry Belafonte is an American singer, actor and social activist who has a net worth of $30 million. Harry Belafonte is best known for popularizing calypso music with his hit recordings of “Day-O (Banana Boat Song)” and “Matilda,” among other tunes. As an actor, he starred in such films as “Carmen Jones” and “Odds Against Tomorrow,” and made a memorable late-career appearance in Spike Lee’s 2018 film “BlacKkKlansman.” Meanwhile, as an activist, Belafonte was a major leader in the American civil rights movement and the South African anti-Apartheid movement.
Harry Belafonte was born as Harold George Bellanfanti Jr. on March 1, 1927 in New York City to Harold Sr. and Melvine, both of whom came from Jamaica. As a youth, Belafonte lived with his grandmother in Jamaica; there, he went to Wolmer’s Schools for his primary education. After coming back to New York, he attended George Washington High School. Belafonte went on to enlist in the US Navy during World War II. He later developed a love for the performing arts when he went to see the American Negro Theater and met actor Sidney Poitier. Toward the end of the 40s, Belafonte took acting classes at the New School’s Dramatic Workshop and performed with the American Negro Theater.
Music Career in the 50s and 60s
To pay for his acting classes, Belafonte became a club singer. Eventually, in 1949, he signed with the Roost record label to begin his career as a recording artist. With his friend Millard Thomas, he made his debut at the Greenwich Village jazz club the Village Vanguard. In 1953, Belafonte signed with RCA Victor, the label with which he would remain for the next two decades. He went on to have his mainstream breakthrough in 1956 with his studio album “Calypso,” which became the first album in the world to sell more than a million copies within a single year. Moreover, the album launched the song that would become Belafonte’s signature: “Day-O (Banana Boat Song).” The other hit single from “Calypso” was “Jamaica Farewell.”
Beyond the calypso genre, Belafonte recorded blues, folk, and gospel songs, as well as show tunes and standards. In 1959 and 1960, he released a pair of live albums recorded at Carnegie Hall; the 1959 album included his popular cover of the Jewish folk song “Hava Nagila.” Belafonte subsequently released such albums as “Jump Up Calypso,” “Midnight Special,” “Streets I Have Walked,” and “Ballads, Blues and Boasters.” He also had a notable professional partnership with South Africans singer-songwriter and activist Miriam Makeba, with whom he recorded the Grammy Award-winning 1965 album “An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba.”
Further Music Career and Retirement
In 1971, Belafonte released his final calypso album, “Calypso Carnival.” His recording career subsequently slowed down throughout the decade, during which time he embarked on tours around the world. Belafonte returned to musical success in the mid-80s when he became involved with the charity supergroup USA for Africa. He also scored the musical film “Beat Street.” After signing a record deal with EMI, Belafonte released his first album of original material in more than a decade: “Paradise in Gazankulu.” The album, which would be Belafonte’s last, features protest songs criticizing Apartheid in South Africa. Belafonte continued to perform throughout the 90s and early 00s, with his final concert being an Atlanta Opera benefit concert in late 2003. He retired from professional singing not long after that.
Belafonte made his acting debut in the 1953 film “Bright Road,” costarring Dorothy Dandridge. The pair reunited the following year to star in Otto Preminger’s hit musical film “Carmen Jones”; they appeared together again in the 1957 ensemble film “Island in the Sun.” Two years after that, Belafonte starred in and produced Robert Wise’s film noir “Odds Against Tomorrow.” He also starred in the science-fiction film “The World, the Flesh and the Devil.” After taking a break from the big screen in the 60s, Belafonte returned in the 70s to star alongside Sidney Poitier in the Western “Buck and the Preacher” and the action crime comedy “Uptown Saturday Night.”
Belafonte had his next major starring role in the 1995 racism drama “White Man’s Burden,” costarring John Travolta. The year after that, he had a juicy role in Robert Altman’s jazz-age crime film “Kansas City.” Belafonte’s other film credits include Emilio Estevez’s “Bobby” and Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” in which he plays an elderly civil rights leader.
Activism and Charity
As an activist for political and humanitarian causes, Belafonte was hugely inspired by actor, singer, and civil rights activist Paul Robeson, who served as his mentor. In the 50s and 60s, Belafonte was among the most high-profile leaders of the civil rights movement, and served as one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s confidants. Among his other contributions, he financed the 1961 Freedom Rides and helped organize the March on Washington in 1963. Belafonte was also highly active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa.
In 1985, Belafonte helped put together the Grammy Award-winning charity song “We Are the World,” and also performed in the Live Aid concert. Two years later, he was named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Belafonte went on to support humanitarian causes around the world, particularly in Africa, where he worked with various campaigns to raise awareness of such issues as child poverty and HIV/AIDS.
Belafonte has been married multiple times. He wed his first wife, Marguerite Byrd, in 1948; they had two daughters named Adrienne and Shari Belafonte, and divorced in 1957. Belafonte subsequently married former dancer Julie Robinson, with whom he had two children named David and Gina. Following 47 years of marriage, the couple got divorced in 2004. Belafonte wed his third wife, photographer Pamela Frank, in 2008.
In the 60s, Belafonte and Maurice Neme formed a joint venture to construct a lavish private community on the Caribbean island of Bonaire. The community, named Belnem, is home to over 700 people.