Ken Davenport Eager to Bring Harry Belafonte Story to Broadway
A timeline, creative team and casting for the as-yet-untitled new musical will be announced at a later date.
Ken Davenport said, "Harry Belafonte is one of the most influential and respected Americans of the past century. 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. 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. To this day he remains a leading advocate for humanitarian causes. Harry Belafonte is also beloved for his unparalleled career as an acclaimed Academy Award, Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award-winning producer, actor and singer of many best-selling hit recordings including "The Banana Boat Song," "Matilda" and "Jump in the Line."
Harry Belafonte said, "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. Will 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."
Take a wander back in time and relive some of Belafonte's greatest hits:
Harry Belafonte was born in Harlem in New York City in 1927. Overwhelmed and intimidated by its ghetto streets and thinking the islands to be a safer place, his immigrant mother sent him back to the island of her birth, Jamaica. The island and all its variety became his cultural reservoir.
At the outbreak of World War II, his mother retrieved him from the island and brought him back to Harlem. He tried to adapt to his new environment, a process that came with great difficulty. Unable to finish high school, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served for almost two years as a munitions loader. After his tour of duty ended, he was honorably discharged and returned to New York City where he worked both in the garment center and as a janitor's assistant.
For doing repairs in an apartment (of Clarice Taylor and Maxwell Glanville), Belafonte was given, as his gratuity, a ticket to a production of Home Is the Hunter at a community theater in Harlem - the American Negro Theatre (A.N.T.). The world that the theater opened up to him put Belafonte, for the first time, face to face with what would be his destiny - a life in the performing arts.
He joined the Dramatic Workshop of the New School of Social Research under the tutelage of the renowned German director, Erwin Piscator. With classmates like Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur, Rod Steiger and Tony Curtis - just to name a few - Belafonte became thoroughly immersed in the world of theatre. Paralleling this pursuit was his interest and love of jazz. He developed a relationship with the young architects of the art form, the geniuses of modern jazz, and on the occasion of his first professional appearance, he had Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Tommy Potter and Al Haig as his "back-up band". Since that launching, Belafonte has sustained an inordinately successful career:
His RCA album "Calypso" made him the first artist in industry history to sell over 1 million LP's.
His first Broadway appearance in John Murray Anderson's Almanac earned him the coveted Tony Award.
As the first black producer in television, he won an Emmy for his CBS production of "Tonight with Belafonte".
At the dawning of his cinematic film career, Carmen Jones took top critical honors and attracted Oscar nominations.
In 2014, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences awarded him the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, thus earning him an EGOT accreditation.
His many firsts in the overturning of numerous racial barriers in the world of culture in America are legend. Belafonte met a young Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his historic visit to New York in the early 50s. 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 the most precious of his experiences. Dr. King said of his friend, "Belafonte's global popularity and his commitment to our cause is a key ingredient to the global struggle for freedom and a powerful tactical weapon in the Civil Rights movement here in America. We are blessed by his courage and moral integrity."
Disturbed by cruel events unfolding in Africa due to war, drought, and famine, Belafonte set in motion the wheels that led to "We Are the World" on January 28, 1985. He contacted manager, Ken Kragen, and they, along with others, guided and directed the project known as USA for Africa.
Belafonte was prominent in the contribution to the ending of the oppressive apartheid government of South Africa and for the release of his friend, Nelson Mandela after twenty-seven and a half years of incarceration.
Belafonte was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to be the cultural advisor for the Peace Corps. He served for five years.
In 1987, Belafonte accepted the appointment as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, thus making him the second American to hold this title - the first being Danny Kaye, upon whose death Belafonte assumed the position. Belafonte has continued to devote himself globally to civil and human rights issues, focusing in particular on the United States and Africa.
Belafonte penned his much-anticipated memoir "My Song" released in October 2011. In conjunction with the release of the book, HBO debuted the critically acclaimed bio-documentary "Sing Your Song" the same week. The film chronicles the life and times of one of America's most groundbreaking entertainers and social activists through his own words, eye-witness accounts, FBI files and archival footage, and seeks to answer two profound questions about who we are, especially as artists and what meaning we find in our own commitments.
Both the film and the book not only tell Belafonte's stirring life story, but place that life in the context of its times, and portrays it with the kind of depth and breadth that makes one wonder why it has not been told before.
Harry Belafonte has been honored many times by such diverse groups as the American Jewish Congress, the NAACP, the City of Hope, Fight for Sight, The Urban League, The National Conference of Black Mayors, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the ACLU, the State Department, the Boy Scouts of America, Hadassah International and the Peace Corps. He has received awards such as 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, in 1989, he received the prestigious 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 our nation's cultural life. He has received honorary degrees from City University of New York, Spellman College in Atlanta, Tufts University, Brandeis University, Long Island University, Bard College and most recently Doctor of Humane Letters from Columbia University and many others. And he is the 2013 recipient of the Spingarn Medal, the most prestigious award bestowed by the NAACP.
Belafonte has four children - Adrienne, Shari, David, and Gina. He boasts of eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Mr. Belafonte resides in New York City with his wife Pamela.
Ken Davenport (Producer) is a Broadway producer whose credits include Once on This Island (Tony Award), Deaf West Theatre's Spring Awakening (Tony nomination), Getting the Band Back Together, It's Only a Play, Macbeth starring Alan Cumming, Godspell, Kinky Boots (Tony Award), The Visit (Tony nomination), Mothers and Sons (Tony nomination), The Bridges of Madison County, Allegiance, Chinglish, Oleanna, Speed-the- Plow, Will Ferrell's You're Welcome America (Tony nomination), Blithe Spirit starring Angela Lansbury, and 13. Off-Broadway Ken has produced Daddy Long Legs, Altar Boyz, My First Time, The Awesome 80s Prom, That Bachelorette Show, and Miss Abigail's Guide to Dating, Mating, & Marriage. He also produced the award winning These Magnificent Miles: On the Long Road with Red Wanting Blue, and an award-winning TV pilot entitled "The Bunny Hole" which has appeared in the LA Indie Film Festival, the Orlando Film Festival, the LA Comedy Festival and more. Ken was named one of Crain's "40 Under Forty," is one of the co-founders of TEDxBroadway, and was featured on a national commercial for Apple's iPhone. He created the Broadway board game Be A Broadway Star, and runs a number of theatrical websites including DidHeLikeIt.com. His blog, TheProducersPerspective.com, has been featured in Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, The Gothamist and more. He has written articles for Forbes, Mashable, Imedia and others. For more information, visit www.DavenportTheatrical.com
Photo Credit: Walter McBride / WM Photos
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