Harry Belafonte to Be Awarded Honorary Doctorate at Tribute Concert March 6

By 
Susan Scotti
February 24, 2014
photo by Pamela Belafonte
Harry Belafonte

Berklee students and faculty will celebrate Harry Belafonte's life and music, from "Banana Boat Song" to "We Are the World," at a tribute concert on March 6.

Berklee president Roger H. Brown will present an honorary doctor of music degree to Belafonte at this event in recognition of his inspiring musical and humanitarian achievements. Past recipients of Berklee's honorary doctorate include Duke Ellington (the first, in 1971), Dizzy Gillespie, Steven Tyler, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Juan Luis Guerra, David Bowie, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Bonnie Raitt, George Clinton, and Carole King. 

The Life and Music of Harry Belafonte: A Tribute Concert, directed by professor Larry Watson, is the culmination of a three-day celebration that includes a teach-in for the Berklee community on March 5. The teach-in will be a forum for the discussion of Belafonte’s groundbreaking legacy in the areas of music, film, the civil rights movement, and human rights advocacy, and an examination of music’s impact on social change. The panel, moderated by assistant liberal arts chair Michael Mason and assistant voice chair Diane Richardson, will feature artists, scholars, and community activists including Melvin King, Betsy Siggins, and Lindsey Swindall.

Additional Harry Belafonte teach-in events include:

·         A viewing of an excerpt from Belafonte’s documentary film, Sing Your Song.

·         Belafonte as UNICEF goodwill ambassador: an overview of UNICEF and discussion about ways for all of us to take action and contribute to the world.

·         A historical tribute to Belafonte with William Banfield, professor of Africana studies.

Belafonte was born in Harlem in 1927 and grew up in Jamaica. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II and served as a munitions loader. After an honorable discharge, he returned to New York, where he became immersed in the world of theater. Paralleling this pursuit was his interest and love of jazz. He developed relationships with the young geniuses of modern jazz, and on the occasion of his first professional appearance, had Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Tommy Potter, and Al Haig as his backing band.

Belafonte’s RCA album Calypso made him the first artist in industry history to sell more than 1 million LPs. He also won a Tony Award, an Emmy Award as the first black producer in television, and starred in the Golden Globe-winning film Carmen Jones.

Belafonte’s many firsts in the overturning of numerous racial barriers in America is legend. He was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to be the cultural advisor for the Peace Corps and served for five years. Belafonte met a young Martin Luther King Jr. on his historic visit to New York in the early 1950s. From that day until the leader's assassination, Belafonte and King developed a deep and abiding friendship that for Belafonte still stands as one of his most precious experiences.

Disturbed by cruel events unfolding in Africa due to war, drought, and famine, Belafonte set in motion the wheels that led to the USA for Africa project and the recording of "We Are the World" on January 28, 1985. Belafonte was also a prominent contributor to ending the oppressive apartheid government of South Africa and for the release of friend Nelson Mandela after 27 years of incarceration.

In 1987, Belafonte was appointed UNICEF goodwill ambassador, making him the second American to hold this title. He has continued to devote himself globally to civil and human rights issues, focusing in particular on the United States and Africa.

Belafonte has received numerous awards, including the Albert Einstein Award from Yeshiva University, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Prize, the Acorn Award from the Bronx Community College for his work with children, and the Kennedy Center Honors for excellence in the performing arts. He was the first recipient of the Nelson Mandela Courage Award and was honored at the White House with the 1994 National Medal of Arts from President Clinton for his contributions to U.S. cultural life. 

In 2013, he received the Spingarn Medal, the most prestigious award bestowed by the NAACP, and the Ambassador of Conscience Award from Amnesty International.

Susan Scotti is a publicist in the Office of Concert Operations. Media inquiries: sscotti@berklee.edu.