Harry Belafonte was a singer, songwriter and groundbreaking actor who began his career with “Day O” on the 1950s hit “Banana Boat,” according to The New York Times. entertainment career before turning to politics at the age of 96.
Belafonte’s longtime spokesman, Ken Sunshine, told The Times on Tuesday that Belafonte’s cause of death was congestive heart failure.
A black leading man who explored themes of race in 1950s films, Belafonte would go on to collaborate with his friend Martin Luther King Jr. during the American Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s.
He became the driving force behind the celebrity-studded anti-famine hit “We Are the World” of the 1980s.
Belafonte once said he was in a state of rebellion driven by anger.
“I had to be part of an insurgency that was trying to change that,” he told the New York Times in 2001. Anger was the necessary fuel. Rebellion is healthy. “
Belafonte was born in Manhattan, New York City, but spent his childhood in his native Jamaica. Handsome and debonair, he was dubbed the “King of Calypso” early in his career.
He was the first black man to be allowed to perform in many of the posh nightclubs, and also made a racial breakthrough in film at a time when segregation was rife in much of America.
In 1954’s “Sunshine Island,” his character came up with the idea of having a relationship with a white woman, played by Joan Fontaine, which reportedly sparked threats to burn down theaters in the American South. In 1959’s “Odds Against Tomorrow,” Belafonte played a bank robber with a racist sidekick.
In the 1960s he campaigned with King, in the 1980s he worked to end apartheid in South Africa and coordinated Nelson Mandela’s first visit to the United States.
“We are the world”
Belafonte traveled the world in 1987 as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and later founded an AIDS foundation. In 2014, he won an Academy Award for his humanitarian work.
Belafonte powered “We Are the World,” an all-star musical collaboration in 1985 that raised money for famine relief in Ethiopia. After seeing grim news reports about the famine, he wanted to do something similar to the fundraising song “Do They Know Christmas?” Launched a year ago by British supergroup Band Aid.
“We Are the World” featured superstars such as Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles and Diana Ross, and raised hundreds of Ten thousand U.S. dollars.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘As an artist, when did you decide to become an activist?'” Belafonte said in a 2011 interview with National Public Radio. an artist. ‘”
Even in his 80s, Belafonte is speaking out on issues of race and income equality and urging President Barack Obama to do more to help the poor. He was co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington the day after Donald Trump became president in January 2017.
Belafonte’s political stance made headlines in January 2006 when he called President George W. Bush “the world’s greatest terrorist” during a visit to Venezuela. That same month, he compared the Department of Homeland Security to the Gestapo of Nazi Germany.
A selection of his music was released on March 1, 2017, in honor of Belafonte’s 90th birthday. Weeks before its release, Belafonte told Rolling Stone that singing was his way of expressing injustice in the world.
“It gave me the opportunity to make political commentary, to make a social statement, to talk about things I found unpleasant — and things I found inspiring,” he said.
Born Harold George Bellanfanti in Harlem, New York, he moved to Jamaica before returning to New York to attend high school.
He described his father as a sadistic drunk who abandoned him and his mother, leaving Belafonte yearning for a stable family. He drew strength from his mother, an uneducated domestic worker, who instilled in him a spirit of can-do.
“We were instructed never to surrender, never to surrender, always to resist oppression,” Belafonte told Yes! Magazine.
These principles led him to join the Navy during World War II, which also provided stability after he dropped out of high school.
“The Navy was a place of relief for me,” Belafonte told Yes! “But I was also driven by the belief that Hitler had to be defeated.
“My commitment continued after the war. Whenever I found a resistance to oppression, whether it was in Africa, in Latin America, of course in the American South, I joined that resistance.”
After retiring from the Navy, Belafonte worked as a janitor at an apartment building and as a stage performer at the African-American Theater before getting roles and studying with Marlon Brando and Sidney Poitier, another A groundbreaking black actor who became a close friend.
He also appeared in “Yearbook” on Broadway, won a Tony Award, and starred in the 1954 film “Carmen Jones.”
Belafonte’s third album, “Calypso,” became the first solo album to sell more than one million copies. “Banana Boat,” a song about Caribbean dock workers with a resounding call to “Day O,” catapulted him to fame. In the 1960s, however, he had surgery to remove a node in his vocal cords, reducing his voice to a raspy whisper.
In 1959, he began making films and collaborated with Poitiers on Buck and the Preacher and Uptown Saturday Night. In 1984, he made “Beat Street,” one of the first films about breakdancing and hip-hop culture.
Belafonte was the first black actor to win a major Emmy in 1960 for a TV variety special. He also won Grammy Awards in 1960 and 1965, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, but expressed frustration with the limitations of black artists in show business. In 1994, Belafonte was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Belafonte was married three times. He and his first wife, Margaret Bird, have two children, including actress and model Sally Belafonte. He also has two children with his second wife, Julia Robinson, a former dancer.