Harry Belafonte at 90… honour to whom honour is due
Mr Harry Belafonte, born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr on March 1, 1927, achieves his four score years and ten today, and for all the good he has done for his fellow men, the world celebrates with this extraordinary American of Jamaican descent.
Wherever on this globe that an oppressed person has been liberated or where there are persons yearning for a life free of poverty and tyranny, the name Harry Belafonte will be whispered for the hope that it represents for a better humanity.
As a nation, Jamaica is proud to own Mr Belafonte and his success as an international superstar singer, songwriter, actor, and social activist. Although born in Harlem, New York and spending only eight years of his childhood in Jamaica, he has never forgotten his mother’s homeland and people.
And, as our own chairman, Mr Gordon “Butch” Stewart reminds us in his letter to the editor paying tribute to the great man on his 90th birthday, Mr Belafonte led many delegations of entrepreneurs to Jamaica and assisted greatly with the development of Air Jamaica during the time that Mr Stewart operated the iconic airline.
We owe much to him for the heights to which the Jamaica brand has soared with the assistance of his talented voice through songs like Jamaica Farewell and the Banana Boat Song (Day-O), which he told The New York Times is about “my father, my mother, my uncles, the men and women who toil in the banana and cane fields”.
When the history of the American civil rights movement is written, the name Belafonte will be extolled. As an early supporter, he became a close confidant of the leader, Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
As an internationalist, he devoted his life to political and humanitarian causes, notably the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and the USA for Africa Project. Since 1987 he has been a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and now acts as the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.
His is truly a rags-to-riches story. But he is never shy to speak of his struggle through poverty which has inspired his compassion for the voiceless and poverty-stricken of the world. His Jamaican mother Melvine Love was a housekeeper who had a hard life trying to make ends meet.
The young Harry Belafonte was often cared for by others while his mother worked and about which he is quoted by People magazine as saying: “The most difficult time in my life was when I was a kid. My mother gave me affection, but, because I was left on my own, also a lot of anguish.”
Despite his overwhelming success later in winning Grammy awards, Emmy awards, Tony awards, to name a few, this multi-talented philantrophist finds his true purpose and lifelong satisfaction in helping all those he can.
At 90 years old, he is worthy of all the accolades he is getting for a life well lived. It is good that he should hear them while he can still appreciate it. Happy birthday, Mr Harry Belafonte.