He is perhaps best known for singing the "Banana Boat Song" with its signature lyric "Day-O". His breakthrough album Calypso (1956) was the first album to sell over 1 million copies. He was the first Afro-American to win an Emmy, with his first solo TV special “tonight with Belafonte”.
He appeared on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and performed a controversial "Mardi Gras" number with footage intercut from the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots. Belafonte has gained notoriety for his left wing political views and has called both United States Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice "house slaves".
From 1935 to 1939 he lived with his mother in her homeland Jamaica. When he returned to New York he attended George Washington High school after which he joined the navy and served during the second world war. At the end of the 1940s he took classes in acting and subsequently received a Tony Award for his participation in John Murray Anderson's Almanac. He has won a Grammy Award in 1985 for lifetime achievement and has been made a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.