Artist/activist Harry Belafonte to deliver the Jacoby-Lunin Humanitarian Lecture at Fairfield University


Image: Harry BelafonteHarry Belafonte, who turned a popular recording career into a lifetime of compassion for the world's needy children, will deliver the annual Jacoby-Lunin Humanitarian Lecture on Monday, Nov. 10, at Fairfield University's Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. The 7:30 p.m. lecture is sponsored by Open VISIONS Forum, an outreach program of University College, and Fairfield University's Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies.

Known for the ever popular "Day-O" and "Matilda," Belafonte burst on the music scene in 1956 with "Calypso," the first-ever million-selling album in history. Over the years he's had success as an actor and producer, but his true passion is focusing global attention on the needs of children as well as civil and human rights issues in Africa and the United States. A Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF since 1987, he is one of only five recipients of the organization's Silver Statuette to commemorate 10 years of service.

"Mr. Belafonte has clearly shown what a well-known and well-respected personality can accomplish for children in need all over the world," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said in presenting the honor in 1997. "His achievements have been countless. It is now my pleasure to add one more award to that crowded mantle."

Belafonte was born in Harlem, but his mother, a Jamaican immigrant, soon grew worried about her son's safety on the tough city streets. She sent him back to live with family on the island of her birth, where he remained until early adolescence. His mother retrieved her son at the outbreak of World War II, but Belafonte's immersion in the rich island culture clearly had a profound effect on his artistic expression.

His passion for performing arts came into focus when he was given two free tickets to a production of "Home is the Hunter" at the American Negro Theatre (A.N.T.).

"It was like walking into a sanctuary," he said of the event. "It was a deeply moving spiritual experience."

Belafonte decided to become an actor and joined the Dramatic Workshop of the School of Social Research, where he worked with classmates Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur and Tony Curtis. After classes, he'd often head to the Royal Roost, where he spent many a night listening to jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and others, who became his friends.

Having heard him sing, the Royal Roost's promoter told Belafonte that, if he learned a few songs, he'd hire him as an intermission singer at the club. During his first appearance, the audience had no idea who Belafonte was, but his back-up band of friends - Miles Davis, Max Roach, Tommy Potter and Charlie Parker - made them sit up and take notice.

Soon he was playing The Village Vanguard, The Blue Angel, The Copacabana and other storied New York clubs and his albums, including "Calypso," "Island in the Sun" and "Banana Boat Song," were huge international hits. His success did not go unnoticed in Hollywood. His star turns in "Bright Road" and "Carmen Jones," both opposite Dorothy Dandridge, placed him alongside his longtime friend, Sidney Poitier, as one of the most sought after African-American actors in film history to that point. He starred in several more films before tackling television with "Tonight with Belafonte," a musical epic that won him an Emmy and lead to a successful career as a producer.

In the 1960s, Belafonte's interest in human rights came to the fore. President John F. Kennedy named him cultural advisor to the Peace Corps, a job that took him to many of the world's developing nations. He developed a strong commitment to the Civil Rights movement in his country and to children's causes worldwide.

As a Goodwill Ambassador, he has traveled to Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Zaire and other struggling countries. Drawing on his musical talent, he's held benefit concerts with world artists, including Miriam Makeba, Youssou N'Dour, Johnny Clegg and Maxi Priest, to highlight the needs of children. In 1985, he was one of the organizers who brought together 45 top artists to raise money for Ethiopian famine victims by recording "We Are the World."

In 1994, the United States recognized his work with one of its highest honors, the National Medal of the Arts. The NAACP, The Urban League, Hadassah International, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the Boy Scouts of America and the America Civil Liberties Union have all honored his service.

He was the first recipient of the Nelson Mandela Courage Award.

Belafonte continues to combine his talents and his passions in concert, film and in television.

"No matter what goes on, there will always be time for another song to be sung somewhere in this precious world," he said of his life's work.

Tickets are $22, $18.50 for senior citizens. For tickets, call the Quick Center box office at (203) 254-4010 or toll free at 1-877-ARTS-396. For more information, visit the website, www.quickcenter.com.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on October 10, 2003

Vol. 36, No. 91