Posted: Tuesday, April 25, 2023. 11:11 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: Harry Belafonte has died aged 96 of congestive heart failure, the BBC reports.
He was one of the first and most successful African-American entertainers, winning hearts on Broadway, stage and screen, but as he himself noted, he was long an activist before becoming an artist.
Belafonte was born in the Harlem district of Manhattan, New York City, to 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.
Afterward, he began to pursue his dream of becoming an actor while singing at clubs and bars in New York. This led to a recording contract and to his hit album Calypso, released in 1956, after his study of regional Caribbean folk music at the U.S. Library of Congress.
A string of hits followed, including Island In The Sun, Mary’s Boy Child, Jump in the Line, and the UK number one Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).
He also obtained film and stage roles, winning two competitive Tony Awards and one non-competitive award as well as one Emmy, several Grammys, and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Motion Picture Academy – making him technically an EGOT winner although the Oscar was in a non-competitive category.
As a visible supporter of the civil rights movement, Belafonte made friends with Martin Luther King Jr and came to their rescue multiple times as well as bankrolling anti-segregation organizations, using his status as one of the first black stars to cross the color line. It prompted Dr King to praise his “courage and moral integrity” and call him a “powerful tactical weapon” for the movement.
Among the events Belafonte had a hand in organizing for multiple causes are the 1963 March on Washington; the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches supporting voting rights; and with many others, the 1985 charity single We Are the World, an all-star musical collaboration that raised millions in money for famine relief in Ethiopia.
The star also campaigned against poverty, apartheid, and AIDS in Africa; and became an ambassador for UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund. He was also not afraid to court controversy as when he issued condemnations of President George W Bush and his black secretaries of state, the late Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.
A host of Hollywood stars and others have paid tribute including Oprah Winfrey, John Legend, rapper Ice Cube, actress Mia Farrow and King’s daughter, Bernice.
The father of four is survived by his children and other relatives and many friends.
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