Belafonte, 84, who was born in Harlem, New York, was the first African-American ever to win an Emmy Award and was a key confidant to Martin Luther King Jr. His dedicated work on behalf of African children stricken by poverty and HIV/AIDS, as well as his outspoken advocacy for the poor and oppressed across the globe, has earned international recognition.
His captivating memoir, My Song, won the Outstanding Literary Work (Biography) award at the NAACP Image honours in New York last week.
Belafonte is also known as a vibrant and seminal musician. A Second World War Navy veteran, Belafonte worked as a club singer until his breakthrough 1956 album, Calypso, which was the first LP in history to sell more than one million copies. He was dubbed the King of Calypso for popularising Caribbean music in The Banana Boat Song, with its signature lyric 'Day-O'.
He was also a prolific actor, winning the 1959 Emmy for his TV special, Tonight with Harry Belafonte. In later years, he was he organiser of Grammy-winning song for famine aid We Are the World and he was awarded the National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton in 1994. He is still an active campaigner and orator and the subject of a new film called Sing Your Song, directed by Susanne Rostock. In a speech to Columbia students this week, he said: "Why are you just a spectator and not a participant?”
The Hay Festival, which will be celebrating its 25th year, takes place from 31 May to 10 June. Among the other headline guests announced today are Michael Ignatieff, giving The Raymond Williams Lecture; Israeli novelist David Grossman; London Mayor and Telegraph columnist Boris Johnson; MP Tom Watson, who has been at the core of the hacking enquiry; Al Jazeera founder Wadah Khanfar; Cairo observer Ahdaf Soueif.
English tenor Ian Bostridge, whose book A Singer's Notebook was recently published, will be at Hay along with literary titan Mario Vargas Llosa. Peruvian Nobel Laureate has written more than 30 novels, plays and essays. His international breakthrough came with the 1960s novel The Time of The Hero. In 1995, he was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's most distinguished literary honour.
Tim Minchin will be opening the festival with a concert on Friday 1 June at 9.30pm. Booker Prize-winning author Hilary Mantel will be in conversation with Hay Festival Director Peter Florence about Bring Up The Bodies, her sequel to Wolf Hall. Ian McEwan will chair an event with Nobel scientist James Watson.