Chart Beat

Rewinding The Charts: Billboard 200 Launches, With Harry Belafonte At No. 1

Harry Belafonte
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American actor and singer Harry Belafonte poses circa 1956.

On this date 61 years ago, the country's premier albums chart arrived as a weekly Billboard fixture

On March 24, 1956, the legendary Harry Belafonte crowned Billboard's first weekly albums chart – then billed Best Selling Pop Albums in Billboard magazine's pages; now known as the Billboard 200 in print and online – with his smash set "Belafonte."

Sixty-one years later, the Billboard 200 remains the chart of record for America's best-selling albums (according to Nielsen SoundScan data) each week.

1956 was a busy year for the King of Calypso, who was already a Tony Award winner for his work in the 1953 musical revue "John Murray Anderson's Almanac." After topping the albums chart with "Belafonte," he notched a second No. 1 with "Calypso."

Fueled by its hit single "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)," "Calypso" spent a staggering 31 weeks at No. 1. It's tied with the soundtrack to "South Pacific" and Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" for the third-longest run on top in the chart's history. The soundtrack to "West Side Story" is the all-time champ, with 54 weeks at the summit. Michael Jackson's career-defining "Thriller" is second with 37.

The Grammy and Emmy Award-winning Belafonte would continue to chart albums through 1970 and remain a cultural force, thanks, in part, to his social activism and philanthropy. Later generations would become familiar with Belafonte in striking ways: He helped organize (and sang on) the 1985 charity single "We Are the World," a four-week Billboard Hot 100 No. 1, while "Day-O" was memorably mimed by the cast in the 1988 film "Beetlejuice." In 2011, "Day-O" became a hit yet again, sampled in Lil Wayne's top 10 Hot 100 hit "6 Foot 7 Foot."

Belafonte, now 90, told BET in 2011 that he appreciates the continued success of the iconic "Day-O." "I'm just glad to see that the younger generations have picked it up and are carrying the song forward in their own way, just like I picked it up in my time."