Harry Belafonte

Belafonte in 2011, cinemafestival / Shutterstock.com

Birth Name: Harold George Bellanfanti, Jr.

Date of Birth: March 1, 1927

Place of Birth: Harlem, Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.

Date of Death: April 25, 2023

Place of Death: Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.

*father – Sephardi Jewish, African-Jamaican
*mother – African-Jamaican, Irish-Scottish

Harry Belafonte was an American singer, songwriter, actor, and civil rights and social activist. He performed Jamaican mento folk songs, marketed as Trinbagonian Calypso music, and was particularly known for his recordings of “The Banana Boat Song,” “Jump in the Line,” and “Jamaica Farewell.” He also sang blues, folk, gospel, show tunes, and American standards. His album “Calypso” was the first solo LP to sell a million copies; Harry popularized the “Day-O” lyric. He starred in the films Bright Road, Carmen Jones, Island in the Sun, The World, the Flesh and the Devil, Odds Against Tomorrow, The Angel Levine, Buck and the Preacher, Uptown Saturday Night, White Man’s Burden, Kansas City, and Bobby. He was also known as Harold George Belafonte, Jr. and Harry Bellanfanti, Jr.

Harry was the son of Melvine Clarasteen (Love), a housekeeper, and Harold George Belafanti/Belanfanti/Bellanfanti, a chef. His parents were Jamaican. Harry was sent to Wolmer’s Boys’ School in Jamaica, living with his grandmother there from 1932 to 1940, until his return to the U.S. for high school. He served in the U.S. Navy in WWII.

Harry was married to photographer Pamela Frank, until his death. He had two children, including actress Shari Belafonte, with his former wife Marguerite Byrd; and two children, including actress Gina Belafonte, with his former wife, dancer Julie Robinson.

Harry’s paternal grandmother was black. Harry’s paternal grandfather was said to be a Dutch Jew who moved to the Caribbean. It is not clear if this is accurate, but there are Dutch Jews with the surname Belinfante.

Harry’s paternal grandfather was named Isaac Belafanti/Belanfanti/Bellanfanti.

Harry’s paternal grandmother was named Dorothy.

Harry’s maternal grandfather was William Alexander Love (the son of Angus Love and Rachel Cross). William was black.

Harry’s maternal grandmother was Sarah Jane Clarke/Clark (the daughter of Henry Clarke and Alice “Elsie” Allen). Sarah was born in Saint Ann, Jamaica, and had Irish and Scottish ancestry. Henry was the son of Robert Clarke and Elsie Hunter. Alice was the daughter of William Stephen Allen and Jane Anderson.

In Harry’s autobiography, My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance, 2012, on pages 12 and 16, he wrote:

My mother, Melvine Love, was a true Jamaican beauty of twenty-one, with dark eyes, high cheekbones, and a trim figure she held so straight that no one ever failed to note her sense of pride and purpose. She was one of thirteen children born to a farming family up in the mountains of St. Ann Parish, on the island’s north coast, her café au lait skin the telltale sign of her interracial roots. Her father was a black sharecropper, her mother the white daughter of a Scottish father who’d come to Jamaica to oversee a plantation for an absentee owner…

Harold was Jamaican and, like Millie, the child of a mixed-race union. His mother was a black Jamaican, his father a white Dutch Jew who’d drifted over to the islands after chasing gold and diamonds, with no luck at all, in the newly formed colonies of West Africa.

Sources: https://books.google.ca

Genealogy of Harry Belafonte (focusing on his mother’s side) – http://www.geni.com

Information on Harry’s mother’s family – http://www.genealogy.com


Curious about ethnicity

21 Responses

  1. andrew says:

    his paternal grandparents were Isaac Belanfanti and Dorothy. Isaac was born in the Netherlands.

  2. andrew says:

    Harry Belafonte is not related to Stephen Belafonte in any way. In fact, Stephen Belafonte’s real name was Stephen Stansbury, but he later changed his last name at the age of 18.

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