1957 Harry Belafonte – Jamaica Farewell
Harry Belafonte’s parents were both from Jamaica, although Harry was born in Harlem. When he was five years old, Harry went to Jamaica to live with one of his grandmothers. He moved back to New York City to attend high school. He became close friends with Sidney Poitier and began taking acting lessons.
To pay for his acting lessons, Harry began singing at clubs. He signed a contract with RCA Records and had his first big hit in 1953 with Matilda, a calypso song that dated back to the thirties.
Harry appeared in a play on Broadway and won a Tony award for Best Supporting Actor in 1954. He also recorded his first album in 1954, Mark Twain and Other Folk Favorites.
Harry worked with Calypso singer/songwriter Irving Burgie to record his next album, Calypso, in 1956. Irving took credit for writing the first single from the album, Jamaica Farewell, although Harry and others claim he put the song together from several older folksongs. The Kingston Trio specialized in Calypso music for a brief time and took their group’s name from the mention of Kingston, Jamaica, in Harry’s record.
Harry’s well-known Christmas song, Mary’s Boy Child, also began to chart in late 1956, eventually peaking at #12.
Harry’s version of Jamaica Farewell peaked at #14 on January 12, 1957, the same week his next song reached the charts for the first time. That single, Banana Boat (Day-O), took about a month to reach #5 on the Hot 100.
The Calypso album was the first LP to sell over a million copies, and it remained on the album chart for several years. Unfortunately, Harry never reached the Hot 100 again after 1957.
While Harry never again charted with any of his singles, he recorded at least 37 albums during his career. Credits on his 1962 album, Midnight Special, included a young harmonica player: Bob Dylan.
In addition to his recording career, Harry continued to act in films and on television.
Harry was also prominent in the Civil Rights movements in the sixties and worked closely with Martin Luther King. In 2016, he endorsed Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Presidential primary.
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