The world is mourning a legendary musician, actor, civil rights activist, and Broadway performer. Harry Belafonte has died at the age of 96. His spokesperson said that he died from congestive heart failure.
Dubbed the “King of Calypso”, Belafonte, son of Jamaican-born immigrants, first made a splash in the music industry in 1956 with “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)”. He went on to have other hits, such as “Shake Senora” and “There’s a Hole in my bucket”; however, he also found success in the medium of screen acting and Broadway performance. He won a Tony Award for his performance in the 1954 musical revue show, John Murray Anderson’s Almanac; as well as taking leading man roles in movies such as Island In the Sun, and acting opposite Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones and Bright Road.
Much of the financial stability earned from his industry-wide success was used to fuel a passion he said predated his love for being a performer: activism. As a mentee of Martin Luther King, he used his wealth to bail him out of an Alabama jail in 1963; and organized a march on Washington which culminated in King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. He also founded the Freedom Riders and the SNCC, which prioritized fighting against unlawful segregation in the South.
Later, his activism expanded to initiatives in African countries, including the “We Are the World” all-star charity record, which raised $63 million dollars for famine relief. He also used his music as a form of protest, railing against apartheid with his album, Paradise in Ganzakulu.
Always outspoken on socio-political issues, he drew ire for calling President George W Bush “the greatest terrorist in the world” for the US invasion of Iraq. He also criticized fellow musicians, Jay-z and Beyonce, for not taking firmer stances on social justice issues.
He continued to take small roles on the small and big screen throughout his later years, with a notable appearance in the biographical American crime comedy film, BlacKkKlansman in 2018.
He is survived by his wife, Pamela Frank; and four children.