Harry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte is a multi-genre artist who was at the height of his popularity in the sixties. While best known for his Calypso tunes Harry performed gospel, blues and even folk music to varying audiences. Through the years Harry has drawn the attention of presidents, global leaders and celebrities of all types. Besides music he has also done a great deal of activism for a multitude of movements, some controversial, some not. Whether you agree with him or not in more recent years his activism work has cast a shadow on the performing and recording he did early in his career, not necessarily in a negative way but his name isn’t as immediately identifiable with the lively music he used to create.

Harry was born in 1927 in New York City. He was born to working class parents, his father being a Jamaican immigrant. At the age of eight Harry went to live with his grandmother in Jamaica for a number of years and returning when he was thirteen. He attended high school in NYC and then served in the Navy during WW2. It was upon his return from the navy that Harry’s life started leaning towards music. Harry wanted to be an actor, so he enrolled in the New School’s drama program alongside some other kids looking to make names for themselves, Marlon Brando, Bea Arthur, Sidney Poitier and Walther Matthau, were all in his class. While attending classes he needed a job to pay the bills so Harry started doing some theater work on the side, even winning a Tony for some work he did during this period. Besides acting Harry also performed with pure musical acts and this is how he got his start in the music world. Things really went well for him and by 1952 he was signed to RCA Victor.

I know it’s cliche but I first heard Harry Belafonte through his songs that were featured in the film Beetlejuice. If you haven’t seen it you really should, it’s a great Tim Burton movie. Without going into it two of Harry’s songs (Day-O and Jump in the Line) are featured in major parts of the movie and are really high points for me and that film. They are both calypso songs and I hadn’t heard of calypso prior to seeing the film(I was only a lad at the time). Even though it would be close to a decade after until I’d purchase my first Belafonte album that first listening experience is burned into my mind.

Like many artists of his age and stature his present day record offering is mostly Best Ofs and Greatest Hits collections. Which is all I currently have of his. That’s not to say that there isn’t merit in his legacy releases though. I’d say anything prior to 1961 is worth a listen and after writing this I think I’m gonna grab a few of his early ones. He was really on a roll in those early days with most of his releases back then being of high quality. What set him back though was the British Invasion around 1960. Once the British invasion hit full swing the demand for Harry’s music fell accordingly and he never really recovered. Of particular interest to me is his 1956 release, “Calypso”.

1) Mark Twain and other Folk Favorites [1954]
2) Belafonte [1956]
3) Calypso [1956]
4) An Evening with Belafonte [1957]
5) Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean [1957]
6) To Wish You a Merry Christmas [1958]
7) Belafonte Sings the Blues [1958]
8) Love is a Gentle Thing [1959]
9) Belafonte at Carnegie Hall [1959]
10) My Lord What a Mornin’ [1959]
11) Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall [1960]
12) Swing Dat Hammer [1960]
13) Jump Up Calypso [1961]
14) Midnight Special [1962]
15) The Many Moods of Belafonte [1962]
16) Streets I Have Walked [1963]
17) Belafonte at The Greek Theatre [1964]
18) Ballads, Blues and Boasters [1964]
19) In My Quiet Room [1966]
20) Calypso in Brass [1966]
21) Belafonte on Campus [1967]
22) Belafonte Sings of Love [1968]
23) Homeward Bound [1970]
24) Belafonte By Request [1970]
25) The Warm Touch [1971]
26) Calypso Carnival [1971]
27) Belafonte…Live! [1972]
28) Play Me [1973]
29) Belafonte Concert in Japan [1974]
30) Turn the World Around [1977]
31) Loving You is Where I Belong [1981]
32) Paradise in Gazankulu [1988]
33) Belafonte ’89 [1989]
34) An Evening with Harry Belafonte and Friends [1997]

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