Harry Belafonte, the legendary American folk singer, actor and civil rights icon, has died aged 96. Belafonte died of congestive heart failure, according to his spokesman who spoke to the New York Times. Belafonte, who had become a major force in the civil rights movement died at his home on Tuesday on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Belafonte made a mark in Hollywood during the 1950s with his famous songs Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) and Jump in the Line. His record Calypso was credited as being the first by a single artist to sell more than one million copies, after reaching the top of the Billboard album charts in 1956 and remaining there for more than 30 weeks.
Death of an Icon
Belafonte, a New York native with Jamaican roots played a significant role in the folk music scene in the 1950s. He was born on March 1st, 1927, in Harlem and raised in Jamaica before moving back to the city, where he dropped out of high school and joined the US Navy.
He served for two years before being honorably discharged and returning to Manhattan.
It wasn't until later that his passion for the arts became apparent, and he became intrigued by his regular visits to a community theater in Harlem. In order to pursue his love of theater and jazz, he entered the Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research.
The three-time Grammy Award winner and actor made history in 1960 when he became the first Black person to win an Emmy. He also made a name for himself on Broadway in "John Murry Anderson's Almanac" and "Three for Tonight."
The success of the song Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) ultimately led to leading roles in films like Carmen Jones and Island in the Sun.
Over the course of his 100-year life, he received a Tony Award, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Kennedy Center Honors, and a National Medal of Arts. He significantly contributed to the development of the music industry through his numerous albums and songs.
An Extraordinary Life
"Banana Boat" and "Island in the Sun" are arguably two of his most well-known songs. However, Belafonte was more than just a singer and actor.
Throughout his life, Belafonte fought for numerous causes. He backed several civil rights movements for Black Americans in the 1960s, ran anti-poverty, anti-apartheid, and anti-AIDS campaigns in Africa, and supported leftist politicians like Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
Belafonte began to speak out against the bigotry he encountered in Hollywood as his fame grew. He identified as a musician with "roots in the black culture of American Negroes, Africa, and the West Indies."
Martin Luther King, Jr., who was close to Belafonte, praised the musician for his "courage and moral integrity." He has won numerous prizes for his dedication to the cause and has garnered numerous distinctions from activist organizations. He was the first person to ever receive the Nelson Mandela Courage Award, which is really amazing.
"What makes a movement work are thousands of parts that come together and express itself in favor of a given destination or objective," Belafonte told the New York Times in 2016. "You have to find men and women who are willing to play the role that each of these things demand."
"Movements don't die because struggle doesn't die," he added.
His album Calypso was credited as being the first by a single artist to sell more than one million copies after reaching the top of the Billboard album charts in 1956 and remaining there for more than 30 weeks in a row.
Belafonte kept up her acting career long into the twenty-first century, acting in movies including BlacKkKlansman in 2018 and Breathe in 2005, where she played South African bishop Desmond Tutu.
Belafonte is survived by his wife Pamela Frank and four children: Shari, David, Adrienne and Gina.