Harry Belafonte, singer, actor and activist, has died at age 96

A 1976 portrait of the singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte. He died Tuesday at age 96.

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AFP/Getty Photographs

A 1976 portrait of the singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte. He died Tuesday at age 96.

AFP/Getty Photographs

Singer, actor and human rights activist Harry Belafonte died Tuesday at age 96 of congestive coronary heart failure. He broke racial boundaries and balanced his activism along with his artistry in ways in which made folks around the globe pay attention. Belafonte, who was an EGOT holder for his Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards, died at his house in New York, his publicist introduced.

Model, class and charisma: That was Harry Belafonte as a performer. Within the Nineteen Fifties, his recordings for RCA Victor, which included his iconic model of the Jamaican people music “Day-O” (often known as “The Banana Boat Tune”) set off a craze for calypso music. Along with his beauty and his shirt unbuttoned to his chest, audiences — Black and white — adored Belafonte at a time when most of America was nonetheless segregated.

Belafonte was born in Harlem. His dad and mom have been from the Caribbean; his mom was Jamaican, and his father was from the island of Martinique. His mom, who was a cleansing woman, took him again to her native Jamaica, the place he absorbed the island’s tradition.

The singer informed NPR in 2011 that his recording of “The Banana Boat Tune” was impressed by the distributors he heard singing within the streets.

“The music is a piece music,” he mentioned. “It is about males who sweat all day lengthy, and they’re underpaid. They’re begging for the tallyman to come back and provides them an trustworthy depend: ‘Rely the bananas that I’ve picked so I may be paid.’ When folks sing in delight and dance and adore it, they do not actually perceive except they examine the music — that they are singing a piece music that is a music of riot.”


And that music of riot was a smash. The album Calypso was a bestseller, holding a spot on the high of Billboard’s then newly created album charts for a number of weeks in 1956.

Years earlier, Harry Belafonte dropped out of highschool and joined the Navy. After serving in World Conflict II, he was working as a janitor’s assistant when somebody gave him tickets to a efficiency on the American Negro Theatre. He was riveted.

He began coaching there, alongside Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee. He additionally began singing in golf equipment. Fairly quickly, he had a recording contract.

In 1954, he gained a Tony Award for a revue known as “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac: A Musical Harlequinade.” He starred in motion pictures and appeared on TV selection exhibits. In 1959, he was given a one-hour present on CBS. Referred to as The Revlon Revue: Tonight With Belafonte, this system had dance numbers, people songs, and each Black and white performers. This system gained an Emmy Award — the primary for an African American.

Revlon requested him for extra exhibits. Based on Belafonte, CBS stations within the South complained about its built-in solid. In interviews, he mentioned he was requested to make it all-Black. He says he refused, and left the present.

RCA Data

Belafonte was one in every of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most trusted buddies. In 1963, he helped manage the Freedom March on Washington, the place King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech.

Clarence Jones, who helped draft that speech, informed NPR’s Contemporary Air in 2011 that it was Belafonte who defined to them tips on how to use the facility of tv. “He mentioned,” Jones recalled, “‘You need to take a look at this as a media occasion, not simply as a march.’ And so, for instance, Harry was accountable for assembling what was known as the ‘superstar delegation,’ a variety of celebrities from Hollywood and performing artists. And he was very agency that they need to sit in a sure strategic half on the rostrum, as a result of he knew that the tv cameras would pan to them, would look to them. And so he wished to make sure that they have been strategically located, in order that in trying on the celebrities, they’d additionally see an image of the march and the opposite performers.”

When Dr. King was held in a Birmingham jail, Belafonte raised cash to bail him out. Coretta Scott King wrote in her autobiography, “At any time when we received into hassle or when tragedy struck, Harry has all the time come to our support, his beneficiant coronary heart wide-open.”

His relationship with the King household later turned rocky after Belafonte filed a lawsuit in opposition to King’s property in 2013 over the destiny of three paperwork that the civil rights chief had given him, and which Belafonte tried to public sale off with a purpose to fund nonprofit work; the household claimed that the singer and actor had “wrongfully acquired” the paperwork. Belafonte and the property settled out of court docket the following yr, with Belafonte retaining the supplies.

All through his profession, Belafonte acquired quite a few honors for his humanitarian work and the humanities. He additionally helped manage Nelson Mandela’s first journey to the U.S. after he was launched from jail.

He was additionally an outspoken critic of individuals in energy, together with President Barack Obama, whom he as soon as chastised for not exhibiting sufficient concern for the poor. He singled out African American artists Jay-Z and Beyonce, telling an interviewer they’ve “turned their again on social accountability.” Jay-Z responded on his observe “Nickels And Dimes”: “Mr. Day-O, main fail.” The 2 males finally made up.

Harry Belafonte was an activist into his 90s. He informed NPR in 2011 that was one thing he realized from his mom.

“She was tenacious about her dignity not being crushed. And sooner or later, she mentioned to me — she was speaking about getting back from a day when she could not discover work. Combating again tears, she mentioned, ‘Do not ever let injustice go by unchallenged.'”

As his good buddy Sidney Poitier as soon as put it, Belafonte was an “invaluable power pressure” and “all the time a gutsy man.”

Harry Belafonte is survived by his spouse, Pamela Frank; 4 kids; two stepchildren; and eight grandchildren.

Edited by: Anastasia Tsioulcas

Audio story edited by: Rose Friedman

Audio story produced by: Kelli Wessinger


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