Harry Belafonte, Singer-actor-activist dies of congestive heart failure at 96

Harry Belafonte. Image credit Facebook-Harry Belafonte

IBNS: Singer-actor Harry Belafonte, who broke racial barriers in the United States, has died at his home in New York’s Manhattan. He was 96.

One of the most successful African-American pop stars in history, he scored hits with Island In The Sun, Mary’s Boy Child, Jamaica Farewell and the UK number one Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).

His greatest achievement was his campaign for black civil rights in the US.

Belafonte died of congestive heart failure, said his spokesman Ken Sunshine. His wife Pamela was by his side.

Oprah Winfrey was among the first to pay tribute, remembering Belafonte as “a trailblazer and a hero to us all”.

“Thank you for your music, your artistry, your activism, your fight for civil rights and justice,” she said.

“Your being here on Earth has blessed us all,” Wimfrey added.

Belafonte was born in New York’s Harlem in 1927 as the son of poor Caribbean immigrants.

A high school dropout, he joined the Navy during the Second World War, working as a munitions loader at a base in New Jersey.

Belafonte considered the actor, singer and activist Paul Robeson a mentor, and he was a close confidant of Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

As he later recalled, “Paul Robeson had been my first great formative influence; you might say he gave me my backbone. Martin King was the second; he nourished my soul.”

Throughout his career, Belafonte was an advocate for political and humanitarian causes, such as the Anti-Apartheid Movement and USA for Africa. From 1987 until his death, he was a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

He was a vocal critic of the policies of the George W. Bush presidential administrations. Belafonte acted as the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.

Belafonte won three Grammy Awards (including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award), an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award. In 1989, he received the Kennedy Center Honors.

He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1994. In 2014, he received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Academy’s 6th Annual Governors Awards and in 2022 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the Early Influence category.