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.