Harry Belafonte, iconic Jamaican-American singer-songwriter, actor, and activist, has died. He was 96 years old.
Ken Sunshine, longtime representative for Belafonte, confirmed in a press release Belafonte died due to congestive heart failure. He was at his New York home when he died at age 96 “with his wife Pamela [Frank] by his side.”
Born in Jamaica, Belafonte immigrated to America, finding himself a resident of Harlem. Belafonte dropped out of high school and joined the U.S. Navy. After an honorable discharge, Belafonte returned to New York before launching his career and landing his first leading role in June and the Pacock at the American Negro Theatre. Belafonte would go on to win a Tony award in 1954.
Belafonte was a multi-hyphenate talent, including a singer and songwriter, spanning jazz, pop, and folk genres. In the same year he won his Tony for Almanac, Belafonte released his first album in 1954. In 1956, Belafonte returned with his breakout release Calypso, selling one million copies and being dubbed the “King of Calypso.” The album spawned “Day-O (Banana Boat Song),” becoming the most notable single from Calyspo and being an effort of the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2009. Belafonte would also secure an Emmy award in 1960 for his work in The Revlon Revue: Tonight With Belafonte.
Belafonte’s life and career were filled with efforts of activism. During the spark of his career, Belafonte worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to support the civil rights movement. Blending activism and culture, he would lean on the support of artists worldwide to highlight the issues that impacted African nations. Most notably, famine and wars resulted in a $60 million investment in the nation through the Hands Across America campaign, which featured “We Are the World.” Most recently, he celebrated his 94th birthday through a virtual party that raised money for The Gathering for Justice, a nonprofit created to end child incarceration while working to eliminate the racial inequities that permeate the justice system. Throughout his life, he served as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF.
Throughout Belafonte’s life, he was awarded the National Medal of the Arts from President Clinton and the Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award for his work in Africa and Africare.
He was survived by his wife Pamela, four children, two stepchildren, and eight grandchildren.
Rest in peace, Harry Belafonte.