Harry Belafonte’s Most Notable Moments

American actor and singer Harry Belafonte poses circa 1956.
Archive Photos/Getty Images

Of course you may know Harry Belafonte’s song “Day-O,” made most memorable from movies such as Beetlejuice or even when he performed it with the Muppets on The Muppet Show back in 1978. Here we look back at some of his most notable moments onscreen and off during his long career.

The Calypso King

Belafonte was the first artist to sell over 1 million records internationally in a year with his 1956 LP Calypso. While he sang many other styles of music, it was the calypso sound he introduced to many Americans, releasing five albums of the style that dubbed him the Calypso King. He released his last calypso album, Calypso Carnival, in 1971.

Rising Movie Star?

CARMEN JONES, Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, 1954.

20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy Everett Collection

Around the time that his music career started to break, he also started acting on the silver screen. His first film role was in Bright Road (1953), with Dorothy Dandridge. The pair also starred in the film adaptation of Broadway musical hit Carmen Jones (1954), for which Dandridge was nominated for an Oscar. Oddly enough, even though they were both singers, their voices were dubbed in by more suitably ranged opera singers. He went on to star in a few more movies through the decades. His last was a bit part in director Spike Lee’s 2018 movie BlacKkKlansman.

First African American Ever To Win …

American actor, singer, and composer Harry Belafonte poses in front of a glittery curtain with the Emmy statue that he had just won for his CBS television musical special 'Tonight With Belafonte' at the 1960 Emmy Awards, June 20, 1960. Belafonte won for best entry a 'Variety/Musical Program/Series' and was the first African-American ever to win an Emmy.

CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Posing with the Emmy statue that he had just won for his CBS television musical special Tonight With Belafonte at the 1960 Emmy Awards on June 20, 1960. He was the first African American ever to win an Emmy and was the first to win a Tony Award for his Broadway performance in John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.

Harry And The Muppets

He appeared on many TV shows during his career, but potentially one of the most notable appearances, and quite possibly one of the most memorable episodes of The Muppet Show ever, is when Belafonte appeared doing his famous hit “Day-O” but also performed “Turn the World Around,”  which included specially made Muppets wearing tribal masks. It was reportedly Jim Henson’s favorite episode ever, and Belafonte performed the song at Henson’s funeral in 1990.

THE MUPPET SHOW, Harry Belafonte, (Season 3, aired November 8, 1978), 1976-1981

Courtesy Everett Collection

Civil Rights And Political Activism

As a longtime committed activist, Belafonte was part of the USA for Africa collaboration in 1985, which came up with an idea for a single to raise awareness for the hunger crisis going on in Africa at the time. That single was “We Are the World.” He received a special AMA (American Music Association) honoree award in 1986 for his work on the single, getting together some of the best known singers at the time for their contributions that ended up raising millions of dollars for the cause. It brought his name to the surface of the recording industry again, where he started doing more global activist songs.

Harry Belafonte passed away at the age of 96 on April 25, 2023.