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Harry Belafonte, the Harlem-born son of poor undocumented Jamaican immigrants, an untrained singer whose heart was set on becoming an actor, made music history with “Harry Belafonte: Calypso.” This record was the very first by a solo performer to sell a million copies, holding the top spot on “Billboard’s” pop album charts for an unprecedented 31 weeks (in addition, 58 weeks in the top ten, 99 weeks among the top 100). The higher-ups at RCA had doubted the commercial potential of a thematically unified recording of “island and Calypso songs,” but the “Calypso” record, released at the end of May 1956, quickly soared in sales, knocking Elvis Presley’s first album out of the way to take over the top spot within a few weeks. The “Calypso” album also reached the top of music charts in most of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, and was “covered” via native language recordings in many countries.


Added to the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in 2017. Essay by Judith E. Smith.


Library of Congress, National Recording Preservation Board, National Recording Registry



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