Born Neluset Wyclef Jean on Oct. 17, 1972, in Haiti, Wyclef Jean is a Grammy-winning musician and record producer.
Jean moved with his family to Brooklyn, N.Y., before moving again to northern New Jersey. In 1994, he married Fusha designer Marie Claudinette. In 2005, they adopted their daughter, Angelina Claudinelle Jean. The couple renewed their vows in August 2009.
Jean’s musical breakthrough was as part of the Fugees, a three-member group that included Lauryn Hill and Prakazrel “Pras” Michel. Jean is Pras’ cousin and a fellow Haitian immigrant. The Fugees’ debut album, Blunted on Reality, peaked at No. 49 on the U.S. Hot 100 and sold 2 million-plus copies worldwide. The follow-up album, The Score, sold more than 18 million copies worldwide, eventually becoming a multiplatinum, Grammy-winning album.
Jean has released eight solo albums since 1997, with another due to be released in 2010. He has collaborated with artists from Mary J. Blige, Timbaland and Celia Cruz to Cyndi Lauper, Kenny Rogers and Earth, Wind and Fire. He also covered the Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Fortunate Son” for the soundtrack of the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate and wrote the song “Million Voices” for the film Hotel Rwanda.
In 2005, Jean was the main force behind establishing the Yéle Haiti foundation. In its first year of operation, the foundation, with funding by Comcel, provided scholarships to 3,600 children in Gonaïves, Haiti, after the devastation by Tropical Storm Jeanne. Since then, the foundation has grown its programs to include mobilizing community, delivering food and water, offering grants to smaller NGOs, training teachers, repairing schools, planting trees, feeding children in schools, organizing sports teams, supporting arts programming, and giving scholarships to 4,500 children and a dozen college students, among many others.
His uncle, political activist, journalist and diplomat Raymond Alcide Joseph, has been the Haitian ambassador to the United States since 2005. Together, Jean and Joseph appealed for international aid following the devastating January 2010 Haiti earthquake.
On Feb. 26, 2010, Jean won the Vanguard trophy from the NAACP for his humanitarian efforts on behalf of his native Haiti. Jean received his award at the 41st annual NAACP Image Awards and dedicated it to “all of those people you all don’t see working on the ground in Haiti and in America.”
The following night, Feb. 27, the Harvard Foundation of Harvard University named Jean its 2010 Artist of the Year. He received the group’s most prestigious medal at the annual Cultural Rhythms award ceremony.
Since the January 2010 Haiti earthquake, Yéle Haiti has redoubled its efforts in Haiti, working with 34 tent camps and other communities across the country. Included among the thousands of relief items Yéle has distributed are 84,000 hot meals, 14,400 items of canned and packaged food, 2 million gallons of bulk water (soon expanding to 1 million gallons a month), 32,850 bottles of water, 270,310 nutrition bars (donated by Clif Bar and Nature’s Path), more than 2,500 care bags with personal toiletries and assorted items, 8,455 items of new and used clothing and more than 1,500 pairs of new and used shoes, 1,000 pairs of new boots (donated by Timberland), 2,000 pairs of new shoes (donated by TOMS Shoes), 1,240 windup flashlights (donated by Eton through the efforts of Timberland) and 2,500 solar radios (donated by Eton through the efforts of Timberland).
In addition, Yéle has launched Yéle Vert, a reforestation program co-sponsored by Timberland; will further expand Yéle Corps, a jobs-creation and vocational-training program; has plans to build Yéle Kitchen, a jobs-creation and vocational-training program that will also provide food for the needy; and is in the beginning stages of providing temporary housing that has been designed to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes.
On Aug. 5, 2010, Jean relinquished his leadership role in the organization. The following day, he announced that he will make a bid for the presidency of Haiti in the country’s upcoming November election.