Harry Belafonte dead at 96: Day-O singer and civil rights activist dies after barrier-breaking career | The Sun

ICONIC civil rights activist and the King of Calypso Harry Belafonte has died at age 96.

Belafonte died from congestive heart failure at his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on Tuesday, his longtime spokesman Ken Sunshine told The New York Times.

Belafonte, a trailblazer and a major force in the civil rights movement, popularized the Trinbagonian Calypso music style to a global audience.

Born in New York City on March 1, 1927, Belafonte began his music career as a Midtown nightclub singer before performing to large crowds at the Village Vanguard jazz club in Greenwich Village.

A child of West Indian immigrants, he signed his first record deal with Roost Label in 1949 and quickly developed an interest in folk music.

His 1956 album, Calypso, shot him to stardom, reaching number one on the Billboard charts with hits like Day-O (The Banana Boat Song), Jamaica Farewell, and Jump in the Line.

Calypso stayed atop the Billboard charts for 31 weeks, becoming the first LP by a single artist to sell more than 1million copies.

A charismatic and wholesome attraction, Belafonte was the most highly paid Black performer in history by 1959, performing in venues across the US, including Las Vegas, the Greek Theater in Los Angeles and the Palace in New York.

His meteoric rise as a singer led to movie offers, and he soon became the first Black actor to achieve major success in Hollywood.

His movie stardom sparked a friendly rivalry with Sidney Poitier, who became Hollywood's first true Black idol.

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Following a short-lived movie career, Belafonte's continued to perform into the 21st century.


However, his primary focus shifted in the 1950s when he became a civil rights leader, becoming one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s close confidants and friends.

Belafonte provided funds for King's organizations, including his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and helped start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

He took part in the March on Washington in 1963 while at the same time providing money to bail King and other civil rights activists out of jail.

"I’ve often responded to queries that ask, ‘When as an artist did you decide to become an activist?'" he once told Dallas News.

"My response to the question is that I was an activist long before I became an artist. They both service each other, but the activism is first."

Belafonte's activism extended globally, as he led a campaign against apartheid in South Africa and befriended Nelson Mandela.

He fought against HIV and AIDS in the 1980s and became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

In 1985, he devised the idea to record We Are the World with pop and rock stars Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, and Bruce Springsteen to raise money for famine relief in Africa.

Looking back on his life and career, Belafonte was proud but far from complacent.

"About my own life, I have no complaints,” he wrote in his autobiography.

"Yet the problems faced by most Americans of color seem as dire and entrenched as they were half a century ago."

Belafonte is survived by his four children, Shari, David, Gina, and Adrienne; five grandchildren; and his wife, Pamela Frank.

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