Legendary singer, civil rights activist Harry Belafonte dies at 96
Legendary singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte has died at the age of 96.
Also an actor, producer and EGOT winner, Belafonte died Tuesday morning of congestive heart failure at his New York home with his wife by his side.
With his glowing, handsome face and silky-husky voice, Belafonte was one of the first Black performers to gain a wide following on film and to sell a million records as a singer; many still know him for his signature hit “Banana Boat Song (Day-O),” and its call of “Day-O! Daaaaay-O.” But he forged a greater legacy once he scaled back his performing career in the 1960s and lived out his hero Paul Robeson’s decree that artists are “gatekeepers of truth.”
The humanitarian and UNICEF Goodwill ambassador revealed in multiple interviews throughout his life that he wanted to be remembered for his work not just as an artist, but as a champion of social justice.
He stands as the model and the epitome of the celebrity activist. Few kept up with Belafonte’s time and commitment and none his stature as a meeting point among Hollywood, Washington and the civil rights movement.
Belafonte became an early, vocal supporter of the Civil Rights Movement and was a confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr..
He backed countless historic political and social causes and events, including the anti-Apartheid Movement, equal rights for women, juvenile justice, climate change and the decolonization of Africa.
He was one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington and led a delegation of Hollywood luminaries including his best friend Sidney Poitier, as well as Paul Newman, Sammy Davis, Jr, Marlon Brando, Rita Moreno, James Baldwin, Burt Lancaster, Joanne Woodward, Diahann Carrol, Bob Dylan, Mahalia Jackson, Peter, Paul and Mary and Joan Baez, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis and Tony Curtis.
Belafonte had been a major artist since the 1950s. He won a Tony Award in 1954 for his starring role in John Murray Anderson’s “Almanac” and five years later became the first Black performer to win an Emmy for the TV special “Tonight with Harry Belafonte.”
In 1954, he co-starred with Dorothy Dandridge in the Otto Preminger-directed musical “Carmen Jones,” a popular breakthrough for an all-Black cast. The 1957 movie “Island in the Sun” was banned in several Southern cities, where theater owners were threatened by the Ku Klux Klan because of the film’s interracial romance between Belafonte and Joan Fontaine.
His final honor was being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in November 2022 when he received the Early Influence Award. This award is given to artists whose music and performance style have directly influenced, inspired, and evolved rock & roll and music impacting youth culture.
In addition to his children Adrienne Belafonte Biesemeyer, Shari Belafonte, Gina Belafonte, David Belafonte and two stepchildren Sarah Frank and Lindsey Frank, he leaves behind eight grandchildren: Rachel Blue Biesemeyer, Brian Biesemeyer, Maria Belafonte McCray, Sarafina Belafonte, Amadeus Belafonte, Mateo Frank, Olive Scanga, and Zoe Frank.