Rest in Peace Harry Belafonte

rest in peace harry belafonte

Harry Belafonte, a well-known singer, actor, and activist, has passed away at the age of 96 due to congestive heart failure, as confirmed by his spokesperson to the New York Times. He was 96.

At a time when segregation was still widespread and Black faces were still a rarity on screens large and small, Mr. Belafonte’s ascent to the upper echelon of show business was historic. He was not the first Black entertainer to transcend racial boundaries; Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and others had achieved stardom before him. But none had made as much of a splash as he did, and for a few years no one in music, Black or white, was bigger.

Born in Harlem to West Indian immigrants, he almost single-handedly ignited a craze for Caribbean music with hit records like “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.” His album “Calypso,” which contained both those songs, reached the top of the Billboard album chart shortly after its release in 1956 and stayed there for 31 weeks. Coming just before the breakthrough of Elvis Presley, it was said to be the first album by a single artist to sell more than a million copies.

Throughout his life, Belafonte was known for his activism in various causes, such as fighting for civil rights for Black Americans, poverty, apartheid, and AIDS in Africa. Born in Harlem, New York, Belafonte struggled with dyslexia and dropped out of high school. He later joined the US Navy and pursued his dream of becoming an actor, all while singing folk, pop, and jazz songs in New York club gigs.

His third album, Calypso, featuring songs from his Jamaican heritage, became the first album to sell more than a million copies in the US. Belafonte won two Grammy awards and a Tony award for his acting in the musical revue show, John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.

He also appeared in several films, including Island in the Sun, where he had an affair with Joan Collins. Belafonte was known for his activism and supported initiatives fighting for civil rights, such as bailing Martin Luther King Jr. out of a Birmingham jail and organising the march on Washington. He also funded the Freedom Riders and SNCC and worked on voter registration drives. Later in his life, Belafonte focused on various African initiatives and raised over $63 million for famine relief. He was appointed a Unicef goodwill ambassador in 1987 and later campaigned to eradicate AIDS from Africa. Belafonte was known for his criticism of hawkish US foreign policy and meeting with political figures such as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. He continued to take occasional controversial stances, such as criticising Jay-Z and Beyoncé for not being socially responsible.

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