CALYPSO: A WORLD MUSIC
HISTORICAL MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN FLORIDA
Introduction
Calypso in Trinidad
International Calypso
Artists
Songs
Calypso Today

Calypso Artists: Biographies

Harry Belafonte

 

Actor, singer, producer and international human rights activist Harry Belafonte is a celebrity known throughout the world. While his career has included wide-ranging accomplishment during the past half century, he is best known as a singer of folk and popular songs from around the world.

Belafonte was born in 1927 in New York to a Jamaican mother and Martiniquean father. He spent part of his childhood in Jamaica and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, he began appearing as a jazz vocalist and singer of folksongs in nightclubs in New York. In 1953 he performed "Hold 'em Joe" in a John Murray Anderson's Broadway revue titled Almanac, and in 1955 he had the lead role in "Holiday in Trinidad," a segment on NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour. Meanwhile, he recorded singles and albums that featured folk material.

Belafonte's 1956 album Calypso was the first million-selling LP in American entertainment history. It launched a fad for calypso in the United States that lasted into 1957. Though the album included only two actual calypsos, Lord Radio's "Brown Skinned Girl" and "Man Smart, Woman Smarter," it generated widespread public interest in the music and other types of Caribbean songs. Belafonte himself never wanted to be typecast as a calypso singer. In fact, the media sometimes called him "the Reluctant King of Calypso." For Belafonte, calypso was only one part of a rich international repertoire of folk and popular songs. Belafonte did include calypsos on other albums during the 1950s and 1960s and has continued to feature calypso medleys in his concerts up to today.

album cover
Belafonte's Calypso


  magazine cover
Belafonte in
the press

photo
Belafonte in
the movies

Next: Lionel Belasco