Broadway producer Ken Davenport, whose revival of the Caribbean-themed Once on This Island took the top Tony Award in its category last year, has obtained the Broadway stage rights to the life story of singer and activist Harry Belafonte.
Details – casting, creative team, production timeline – about the as-yet-untitled musical will be announced at a later date.
“Harry Belafonte is one of the most influential and respected Americans of the past century,” Davenport said in making the announcement. “I’m excited to be working with Mr. Belafonte to bring his powerful life story, about a son of immigrants who made a profound impact on the lives of Americans and millions of people around the world, to the theatrical stage.”
Said Belafonte in a statement, “The live theater opened up so many worlds for me as a young man. From the moment I saw professional actors on stage, I knew I could find a way forward in life as a performer and as an activist. With humility, it brings me great joy that my story will now become a stage production that I hope will inspire audiences to follow their own dreams.”
Though born in Harlem in 1927, Belafonte would gain immense popularity with his interpretations of Caribbean-style music, notably “The Banana Boat Song,” “Matilda,” and “Jump In The Line.” All three singles came from his seminal 1956 album Calypso, launching an international thirst for the style and making Belafonte the first artist to sell more than 1 million LPs.
Belafonte’s social activism kept pace with his performing career. “An outspoken Civil Rights and political activist, Mr. Belafonte has been confidante and advisor to President John F. Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. Martin Luther King, among many other leaders,” Davenport said. “To this day he remains a leading advocate for humanitarian causes.”
Today’s announcement of the rights acquisition mentioned such biographical highlights as Belafonte’s Tony Award for his first Broadway performance, an Emmy for his CBS production of Tonight With Belafonte (for which he was television’s first black producer), and the 2014 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Motion Picture Academy that completed his EGOT status (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar & Tony).
Belafonte’s musical and political careers were documented in his 2011 memoir My Song, and that year’s HBO documentary Sing Your Song. Belafonte lives in New York City with his wife Pamela.
In addition to Once on This Island, Davenport’s Broadway credits include Deaf West Theatre’s Spring Awakening, Getting the Band Back Together, It’s Only a Play, Macbeth starring Alan Cumming, Godspell, Kinky Boots and The Visit, among many others.