December 5, 2023


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‘King of Calypso’ Harry Belafonte Was WWII Sailor > U.S. Department of Defense > Story

Singer, songwriter, actor and social activist Harry Belafonte was in the Navy all through Planet War II, dropping out of higher college in New York City to enlist and lead to the war effort and hard work from 1944 to 1945.

At the time, the navy solutions had been segregated. Belafonte, a Jamaican American, was assigned to Port Chicago, California, 35 miles from San Francisco. 

For the duration of Earth War II, Black company members ended up not typically assigned to frontline fighting models. Rather, they have been assigned typically to supporting specialties. His job was to load armed service ships certain for the Pacific theater. 

Just in advance of Belafonte arrived in Port Chicago, California, a massive explosion took area, involving military ships loaded with ammunition. About 320 people ended up killed — two-thirds of them Black sailors.

“It was the worst homefront catastrophe of Planet War II, but practically no 1 appreciates about it or what followed,” he claimed.

Just after the tragedy, Black sailors refused to load ammunition beneath the similar unsafe, segregated problems that were said to have sparked the explosion. It grew to become recognized as the Port Chicago mutiny. Fifty of the sailors ended up convicted of mutiny and sentenced to prison. Most were being not introduced until finally months right after the war finished.

“The Port Chicago mutiny was one particular of America’s ugliest miscarriages of justice, the premier mass trial in naval record, and a countrywide shame,” Belafonte claimed. He credited tv producer Ted Turner and his staff members with possessing the courage to put the story on tv.

In 1994, the Port Chicago Naval Journal Nationwide Memorial was dedicated to the lives lost in the catastrophe.

Once he completed his provider in 1945, Belafonte returned to New York Town. He utilized his GI Invoice gains to spend for his classes at The New College Dramatic Workshop, alongside future actors Marlon Brando and Belafonte’s lifelong pal Sidney Poitier.

To dietary supplement his earnings even though attending performing classes, Belafonte sang at nightclubs at times backed by the tunes legends that incorporated jazz musicians Charlie Parker, Max Roach and Miles Davis.

Afterwards, he created an curiosity in people new music. With guitarist and mate Millard Thomas, Belafonte designed his debut at The Village Vanguard, a famous jazz club in New York Town. In 1953, he signed a deal with RCA Victor, recording often for the label until 1974.

Belafonte also carried out in the course of the so-called Rat Pack-period in Las Vegas. He and pianist Liberace, musician and singer Ray Vasquez, and singer Sammy Davis Jr. ended up showcased at the Sands Lodge and On line casino and the Dunes Resort.

Belafonte’s to start with extensively launched single, which grew to become his signature viewers participation music in just about all of his stay performances, was “Matilda,” recorded on April 27, 1953. His breakthrough album “Calypso” (1956) turned the very first lengthy-participating in record in the environment to promote above 1 million copies in a calendar year.

The album introduced American audiences to calypso songs and Belafonte was dubbed the King of Calypso.

Aside from calypso, Belafonte recorded blues, folks, gospel, clearly show tunes and American criteria. 

Belafonte was an early supporter of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s and a single of Martin Luther King Jr.’s close friends. All through his occupation, he has been an advocate for political and humanitarian triggers, these types of as the anti-apartheid motion in South Africa. 

He has also starred in many films, most notably “Carmen Jones” (1954), “Island in the Sunshine” (1957), and “Odds Towards Tomorrow” (1959).

From Feb. 5-9, 1968, Belafonte guest hosted “The Tonight Present,” substituting for Johnny Carson. Among his visitors were King and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

Belafonte, born March 1, 1927, in New York Metropolis, is now 94.