Harry Belafonte, Jamaican-American Singer, Actor, Activist, Dies at 96

Harry Belafonte, Jamaican-American Singer, Actor, Activist, Dies at 96

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Article: By Selen Ozturk

The pop-cultural giant broke racial boundaries as an entertainer and humanitarian for 70 years.

Harry Belafonte, the Jamaican-American singer, actor, and political activist, died aged 96 on Tuesday.

His longtime publicist Ken Sunshine said Belafonte died of congestive heart failure at his Manhattan, New York home, his wife Pamela Frank beside him.

Belafonte is most widely known for his hit songs “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song,” “Jump in the Line (Shake, Señora),” and “Jamaica Farewell,” released in the mid-1950s and early 1960s. His third studio album, “Calypso” (1956), stayed at the top of the Billboard chart for 31 weeks, and was the first album by one artist to sell over one million copies within a year. Three years later, he was the highest-paid Black performer in history.

On Twitter, President Biden eulogized this “groundbreaking American who used his talent and voice to help redeem the soul of our nation. Harry Belafonte’s accomplishments are legendary and his legacy of outspoken advocacy, compassion, and respect for dignity will endure forever.”

Born in Harlem in 1927 to Jamaican-born parents Harold George Bellanfanti Sr., a chef, and Melvine, a housekeeper, he lived from age five to 13 with his grandmother in Kingston, Jamaica. He returned to New York to attend George Washington High School, dropped out for reasons of dyslexia and delinquency, and served in the Navy during World War II.

Though a calypso, folk, gospel, and blues musician, Belafonte was also a stage, TV and film actor from the 1940s through the 2010s. In 1954, when Black faces on Broadway beyond what he deemed “Uncle Tom” roles were few and far between, he won a Tony award for starring in the musical revue “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.” In 1959, he became the first Black performer to win an Emmy for the TV show “Tonight with Harry Belafonte.”

On Twitter, Mia Farrow bid farewell to this “beautiful singer, brilliant and brave civil rights activist, a deeply moral and caring man.”

The rapper Ice Cube called him “more than a singer, more than an actor and more than a man.”

The activist and football quarterback Colin Kaeperinick quoted Belafonte himself, writing “Movements don’t die, because struggle doesn’t die.”

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