The 96-year-old musician and actor Harry Belafonte utilized his success as a Calypso sensation to promote civil rights and humanitarian causes.
“Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” “Jamaica Farewell,” and “Jump in the Line” are some of Belafonte’s well-known songs. According to the New York Times, the cause of death was congestive heart failure, according to his spokesman Ken Sunshine. At his Manhattan home, he passed away.
Belafonte, the son of low-income Caribbean immigrants, was born on March 1st, 1927, in Harlem, New York City. Before moving back to New York City in the 1940s, he lived with his grandmother in Jamaica for several years during his formative years.
He confessed to People Magazine that his childhood was “the most difficult time in my life.” “My mother showed me love but also a lot of anguish because I was left alone,” the author said.
He dropped out of high school to join the Navy during World War II. He returned to New York after he served to seek a career in theater. Belafonte attended the same drama school as Marlon Brando and Walter Matthau, according to Biography.
He also became a well-known jazz club performer at the same period, supported by performers like Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.
For his Broadway debut in John Murray Anderson’s Almanac, Belafonte received a Tony Award. He quickly achieved fame in movies, playing opposite Dorothy Dandridge in films like the musical Carmen Jones.
Additionally, he contributed to the globalization of traditional Trinbagonian Calypso music. His 1956 album Calypso was a significant success and the first to sell one million copies. It also featured his signature tune, “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).”
Belafonte later remarked to The New York Times that “that song is a way of life.” It is a song about my parents, grandparents, uncles, and Jamaican men and women working in the cane and banana fields.
For his 1959 television show Revlon Revue: Tonight with Belafonte, he made history by being the first Black person to win an Emmy.
Although Belafonte was referred to as the “King of Calypso,” he was also well-known for being an activist all his life.
He grew close to Martin Luther King Jr. and was an outspoken supporter of the US civil rights movement, participating in many demonstrations and rallies. Paul Robeson, a fellow performer and activist, was his mentor.
Belafonte later stated in his memoir, “Paul Robeson had been my first great formative influence; you might say he gave me my backbone.” The second was Martin Luther King, Jr.; he fed my spirit.
King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered at the 1963 March on Washington, which he assisted in organizing. Additionally, he supported the voter registration campaigns and the 1961 Freedom Rides. He secured funds to release other civil rights activists and freed MLK on bail.
Belafonte remained an activist his entire life. He put together a supergroup of well-known musicians in the 1980s to record a song for African famine relief called “We Are the World,” which became one of the best-selling singles of all time and raised over $10 million when it was released.
He was a strong opponent of the Iraq War and was active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement.
Today, Belafonte is honored for his pioneering music and unwavering civil rights support.
Many lifetime achievement awards have been given to him, including the Kennedy Center Honors in 1989, the National Medal of Arts in 1994, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, and the honorary Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. He became the oldest living recipient of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s induction in 2022.
Peace be with you, Harry Belafonte. a fantastic musician who dedicated his life to upholding his principles.
Please spread this tale in Harry Belafonte’s honor.