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Singer Harry Belafonte honoured by Princeton University

Published:Sunday | June 7, 2015 | 12:00 AMShereita Grizzle
Harry Belafonte

On Tuesday, singer, actor, and social activist Harry Belafonte was given an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the prestigious Princeton University at their annual graduation ceremony. Belafonte was among six officials honoured at the university's commencement ceremony.

The singer was praised by the university's orator and trustee, Randall Kennedy, who described Belafonte as a man of integrity. "His integrity and courage inspire admiration and imitation, and his example strengthens our hope that the daybreak of justice, peace, and equality may still come," he said during his speech. "Raised in poverty in Harlem and Jamaica, he became one of the foremost entertainers of his generation, generously sharing his fame to further the careers of others."

Belafonte was widely recognised as a singer and performer, becoming known worldwide as the 'King of Calypso'. With a recording career that began in the early 1920s, Belafonte became famous for his blend of pop, jazz, and Caribbean musical styles. During his career, Belafonte had become vital to Jamaica's music industry and is credited with exposing the world to Jamaican folk music, especially through the song, Day-O (Banana Boat Song). His Calypso album became the first to sell over a million records and was his second consecutive number one album on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart. Throughout his career, he won three Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Belafonte then tried his hand at acting and became the first black performer to win a Tony Award (1954), and the first black man to win an Emmy (1959) for his TV special, Tonight With Harry Belafonte. He was also actively involved in putting together the Grammy-winning song, We are the World, to raise funds for persons in Africa.

As a civil-rights activist, he was a confidant of Martin Luther King, Jr. "In working tirelessly for civil rights across the South, opposing apartheid in South Africa, and mobilising famine relief for Ethiopia, he has reminded us that we are the world," Kennedy said.

In November 2014, Belafonte was honoured by the Oscars Academy after the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences arm, named Belafonte as one of four persons to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, which is given to an individual in the motion picture industry, whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the sector.