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Harold George Belafonete, Jr. (born March 1, 1927 in New York, New York, United States) is a musician, actor and social activist of Jamaican ancestry. One of the most successful Jamaican musicians in history, he was dubbed the "King of Calypso" for popularizing the Caribbean musical style in the 1950s. Belafonte is perhaps best known for singing the "Banana Boat Song", with its signature lyric "Day-O". Throughout his career, he has been an advocate for civil rights and humanitarian causes. In recent years he has been a vocal critic of the policies of the Bush Administration.
Belafonte started his career in music as a club singer in New York, to pay for his acting classes. The first time he appeared in front of an audience he was backed by the Charlie Parker band, which included Charlie Parker himself, Max Roach, and Miles Davis among others. At first he was a pop singer, launching his recording career on the Jubilee label in 1949, but later he developed a keen interest in folk music, learning material through the Library of Congress' American folk songs archives. With guitarist and friend Millard Thomas, Belafonte soon made his debut at the legendary jazz club The Village Vanguard.
Harry Belafonte has starred in several films. His first major film role was in Bright Road (1953), in which he appeared alongside Dorothy Dandridge. The two subsequently starred in Otto Preminger's hit musical Carmen Jones (1954). Ironically Belafonte's lyrics in the film were dubbed by an Opera singer, as Belafonte's own singing voice was seen as unsuitable for the role. Using his star clout, Belafonte was subsequently able to realize several then controversial film roles. In 1957's Island in the Sun there are hints of an affair between Belafonte's character and white Joan Fontaine. In 1959 he starred in and produced Robert Wise's Odds Against Tomorrow, in which he plays a bank robber, uncomfortably teamed with a racist partner played by Robert Ryan.
Belafonte was offered the role of Porgy in Otto Preminger's Porgy and Bess, but refused the role, because he objected to the racial stereotyping of African Americans in the story. Feeling dissatisfied with the film roles available to him, he abandoned film in favour of his music career during the 1960s.
In the early 1970s Belafonte briefly resurfaced in a number of films including two films in which he starred alongside Sidney Poitier, Buck and the Preacher (1972) and Uptown Saturday Night (1974).
In 1984, Belafonte produced and scored the musical film Beat Street, dealing with the rise of hip-hop culture.
Belafonte would not star in a major film again until the mid-1990s, when he appeared alongside John Travolta in the race-reverse drama White Man's Burden (1995) and in Robert Altman's Jazz inspired film Kansas City (1996). He also starred as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in the TV drama Swing Vote (1999).
In late 2006, Belafonte appeared in the role of Nelson, a friend of an employee of the Ambassador Hotel played by Anthony Hopkins, in Bobby, Emilio Estevez's highly-anticipated ensemble drama about the assassination of Robert Kennedy.
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