Harry Belafonte has been married three times in his lifetime. However, his marriage to his second wife caused controversy when it happened.
Harry Belafonte is regarded as one of the most successful Jamaican-American pop stars. He made the Trinidadian Caribbean music style globally accepted and earned the nickname the “King of Calypso” for his exploits.
Harry is famous for his multiple hit songs, including “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O),” films, and humanitarian work. He is also known for his numerous marriages, including one that caused controversy. Find out more about the iconic singer and his wives.
Harry was born on March 1, 1927, in New York City. His parents were Caribbean immigrants. His dad was a cook on merchant ships, while his mom was a house cleaner and dressmaker. When Harry was a young boy, his dad left the family.
The singer spent his early years in native Jamaica, where witnessing the ill-treatment of black people left a lasting impression.
In 1940, he returned to Harlem in New York City and lived with his mother. Harry and his mom lived in poverty and struggled to fend for themselves.
Harry dropped out of school and joined the U.S. Navy in 1944. He returned to New York after his discharge and worked as a janitor’s assistant.
He attended a production at the American Negro Theatre (ANT) and was impressed by what he saw that he volunteered to work there as a stagehand. Afterward, he decided to become an actor.
Harry studied drama at the Dramatic Workshop. While appearing in ANT productions, he impressed music agent Monte Kay, who offered him the chance to perform at a jazz club called Royal Roost. Soon, he became popular in the club and bagged his first recording deal in 1949.
In the early 1950s, Harry dropped popular music from his repertoire to concentrate on folk music. He learned traditional folk songs worldwide and performed in New York City clubs like the Village Vanguard.
While making music and performing in nightclubs, Harry was also successful as an actor. He made his Broadway debut in 1953 before winning a Tony Award in 1954 for his role in “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.”
Harry launched his film career in the 1950s and earned rave reviews after starring beside Dorothy Dandridge in the 1953 film “Bright Road.” Dandridge and Harry reunited once more when they starred in Otto Preminger’s “Carmen Jones” in 1954.
He also enjoyed massive success while working with his longtime friend Sydney Poitier, with whom he starred in many films, including “Buck and the Preacher” and “Uptown Saturday Night.”
After starring in “Carmen Jones,” Harry became a star. He became a music sensation and released his breakthrough album, “Calypso” in 1956.
When news of Harry’s marriage to Robinson became known, many Blacks were troubled with the developments in his personal life.
The album was the first by any artist to sell a million copies. He is best known for his song, “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O),” which proved to be a massive tune and held a special meaning to him.
He revealed the song was about his dad, mom, uncles, and the men and women working in Jamaica’s banana and cane fields.
Besides his incredible music and acting talent, Harry was also known for his social and political activism. He was good friends with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. He became a strong voice for the movement and assisted financially.
While serving in the Navy, Harry met Marguerite Byrd, a campus beauty at the Hampton Institute. Byrd was a sorority sister and class officer from a middle-class family in Washington, D.C.
She and Harry differed in their views and perspectives of racial and political issues and had a courtship she described as a long argument over racial issues.
Byrd said Harry reminded her of a kid who would get into trouble without someone else watching and helping him. Hence, she kept him from becoming a delinquent.
In June 1948, the lovebirds tied the knot and welcomed their first child, Adrienne in 1949. They also welcomed a second daughter, Shari Belafonte, now a well-known actress, model, writer, and singer.
Harry’s wife and their kids took an active part in his activities, as seen when they were photographed carrying several balloons during an NAACP Freedom Drive.
In May 2020, Shari gushed over her parents when she posted a throwback photo on her Instagram page and said they looked like sister and brother.
When Harry’s life changed in 1954 following the success of “Carmen Jones,” his marriage to Byrd started disintegrating. She found herself at odds with his new lifestyle.
While filming “Carmen Jones,” Harry met a White dancer named Julie Robinson, and things soon grew serious between them. Robinson was the only White dancer in the Katherine Dunham Company.
She was of Russian-Jewish ancestry but knew so much about African and African-American folk culture. After Byrd gave birth to Shari in 1954, she found a cache of letters Robinson had written to Harry. Soon after that, she and Harry separated.
After divorcing Harry, Byrd returned to Washington, where her family was prominent in real estate. She later became the director of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare’s fellows’ program.
Then she married Dr. Edward Mazique, a former president of the Howard Medical Alumni Association and the Howard University alumni federation president. Byrd died in 1998.
Harry married Robinson in 1957 but hid their marriage and his divorce from Byrd. However, news of his marriage to Robinson leaked shortly before the film’s release, “Island in the Sun.”
The film provoked controversy because of an interracial relationship between Harry’s character and that of his co-star, Joan Fontaine.
When news of Harry’s marriage to Robinson became known, many Blacks were troubled with the developments in his personal life. His increasing popularity at the time made the matter much more widespread.
Harry and Robinson share two children, David and Gina Belafonte. David is Harry’s only son and is a former model, actor, and he serves as the executive director of the family-held company Belafonte Enterprise Inc.
David is an Emmy-winning and Grammy-nominated music producer and has been involved in many of his dad’s albums, tours, and productions. Meanwhile, Gina is a television and film actress and has worked with Harry as a coach and producer on over six films.
On May 9, Gina shared a picture of herself and her mom, wishing her a happy Mother’s Day. She described her mom as one of the most creative, eccentric, beautiful, generous women she knows. She also wrote:
“Thank you mom for all you’ve taught me and listened to!!!!”
Last year, Gina shared throwback snaps of herself and her mom when she was a child and captioned it, “Love.” Harry and Robinson divorced in 2004 after being married for 47 years.
Harry married for the third time in 2008 to Pamela Frank, a photographer. The cute couple has been pictured multiple times at events.
They attended the National Dance Institute’s 40th Anniversary Annual Gala at PlayStation Theatre on April 18, 2016. The couple looked radiantly beautiful as they posed, smiling for photographs.