Belafonte has always been a master of many trades. Well-known as a singer, songwriter, actor, and social activist, he was named the “King of Calypso” for bringing Caribbean music to international audiences in the 1950s.
The “The Banana Boat Song” singer has starred in many films, including 1957’s Island in the Sun and Otto Preminger’s musical Carmen Jones.
But above all of his accolades, Belafonte is known for being charming and humble. He never took himself too seriously, notably joking at the Telegraph Hay Festival that he considered himself one of the greatest actors of all time based on the fact that he’d convinced so many people that he was a good singer.
“I made a joke about my career as a singer but my approach to life was essentially as an actor,” Belafonte told The Telegraph. “That was the major part of my imprint. There is an arc in my musical albums, going through the music of the second half of the 20th century, from the early Calypso to working with world musicians like Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela, through gospel and a cappella albums, up to working on the great We Are The World fundraising single.”
One of his charming qualities is how he reveres his fellow Black entertainers, never pitting them against him.
“I grew up in the Great Depression and the jazz artists and Dixieland musicians were at the core of our communications and enjoyment,” he said. “They were not passing fancies. They are something that is, and will be, listened to again and again. I have a space of reverence for some of those old jazz stars like Sydney Bechet and Louis Armstrong. I knew Louis, and we were both on in Las Vegas shows at the same time once. He was such a delightful man, a great raconteur with wonderful stories. And what a body of music. His jazz albums were magnificent but he wasn’t in a narrow spectrum. He could move across and make wonderful records with someone like the opera singer Robert Merrill. There was something fundamentally decent in the jazz of that whole period that has sustenance. It will always have great force.”
He will be receiving the award along with Maureen O’Hara, an Irish actress and singer.