Long before the Haiti earthquake, Wyclef Jean was lifting his native land up. Born poor in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, about ten miles northeast of Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital, Jean did not come to the United States until he was 13.
Initially settling in Brooklyn, he found his first calling in music. With his cousin Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, also a Haitian immigrant, and Lauryn Hill, Jean formed the hip-hop trio The Fugees, whose name is a shortening of “refugees.”
WATCH JEAN ON MORNING JOE TALK ABOUT HAITI
Infused with strains of political consciousness from the beginning, their debut album, Blunted on Reality, completed in 1992 but released in 1994, made their Haitian affiliation clear with “Da Kid from Haiti Interlude” during a controversial time when Haitians were personas non grata and generally stereotyped as being HIV Positive or having AIDS.
The country’s political instability in its attempts to adopt democratic governance only fueled the American public’s misconceptions.
Two years later, The Score was released to critical acclaim. Selling over 18 million copies worldwide, the album also earned two Grammy Awards. In 1997, Jean released his first solo project, The Carnival, a musical cornucopia meshing many genres, including hip hop, reggae and Haitian music, that also featured performances from Cuban legend Celia Cruz and New Orleans treasure The Neville Brothers.
Far from a one-shot deal, Jean has continued to indulge in multiple genres, releasing such albums as The Ecleftic (2000) and Masquerade (2002), widening his sphere of influence to become a recognizable global figure.
Yéle Haiti, Jean’s foundation, was established in 2005 and emanates from a Creole word meaning “to scream”. Despite recent attacks on Yéle’s credibility, the foundation distributed 3,600 scholarships to Haitian children in its first year.
According to a January 2009 60 Minutes profile of Jean, Yéle has helped feed 50,000 people a month with food donated by the U.N. A roving ambassador for Haiti since 2007, Jean emerged as an official spokesperson during the devastating Haiti earthquake, galvanizing the entertainment community to raise money and spurring much-needed action, especially in affected areas less publicized.
As Haiti continues its recovery, there’s little doubt that Jean will help lead the charge.