Singer, songwriter, and social activist, Harry Belafonte (81) is scheduled to receive an honorary Oscar award for his more than 60 year work as an actor and an activist against racism and other issues of inequality. Belafonte, known as the King of Calypso, is one of the most successful Carribean-American artists of all time. His music career began in 1949 and his breakthrough album, Calypso, which features his most popular song “Banana Boat” (Day-O) was released in 1956. Belafonte also went on to have a successful film career, starring in over 20 films throughout the years.
While many fans know Belafonte for his undeniable skills as an entertainer, he also worked tirelessly through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s and continues to fight for civil rights today. From 1954 to 1961 Belafonte refused to perform in the South, wholeheartedly disagreeing with the racial segregation that was common place there. Belafonte also worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., even bailing him out of a Birmingham jail and helping to organize 1963’s famous March on Washington. However, Belafonte’s activism extended beyond issues of race and his work did not end in the 60s, as he continued to be active in human rights issues. In 1985 he helped to organize the 3 time Grammy Award winning song, We Are the World, an all-star collaboration which featured Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, and a host of other legendary artists.
In 2002 Belafonte was in the spotlight for his political views, which disagreed with U.S. President at the time, George W. Bush. In a 2002 interview with a San Diego radio station, Belafonte referenced a quote by the late Malcolm X and said, “There is an old saying, in the days of slavery. There were those slaves who lived on the plantation, and there were those slaves who lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master, do exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him. That gave you privilege. Colin Powell is committed to come into the house of the master, as long as he would serve the master, according to the master’s purpose. And when Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture. And you don’t hear much from those who live in the pasture.” His statement has been brought up several times since and has shown that Belafonte has never abandoned the fight for civil rights.
Belafonte’s many accomplishments and his bravery to take a stand has lead him to the tremendous honor he will receive. Academy president, Cheryl Boon Isaacs, who says that the academy is thrilled to present the award, has also said “the Governors Awards allow us to reflect upon not the year in film, but the achievements of a lifetime.” Outspoken, intelligent, and immensely talented, Belafonte is certainly a deserving recipient of an award that will celebrate a not just a career, but a lifetime of greatness.
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