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Harry Belafonte, singer, actor and activist, dies at age 96


Renowned singer, actor, and human rights activist passed away on Tuesday at the age of 96 due to congestive heart failure. He was a trailblazer in breaking down racial barriers and skillfully balanced his activism with his artistry, which captivated audiences worldwide.


Renowned entertainer and EGOT holder, Harry Belafonte, passed away at his residence in New York, as confirmed by his publicist. Belafonte had won the prestigious Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards during his illustrious career.

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Harry Belafonte was a performer who exuded style, class, and charisma. During the 1950s, the recordings made by the artist for RCA Victor, notably his rendition of the Jamaican folk melody “Day-O” (also referred to as “The Banana Boat Song”), sparked a widespread fascination with calypso music. Belafonte’s charming appearance and his unbuttoned shirt that revealed his chest were highly admired by both Black and white audiences during a time when America was still largely segregated.

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Harry Belafonte, the renowned singer and social activist, was born in the vibrant neighbourhood of Harlem. The individual’s parents hailed from the Caribbean, with his mother being of Jamaican descent and his father originating from the island of Martinique. Raised by his mother, a cleaning lady, he returned to her homeland of Jamaica and immersed himself in the local culture.

According to NPR, the singer revealed in 2011 that his rendition of “The Banana Boat Song” was influenced by the street vendors’ melodies he had heard.


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According to him, the composition is categorised as a work song. The story centres around male workers who endure long hours of physical labour, resulting in excessive perspiration, while receiving inadequate compensation for their efforts. The workers are requesting the presence of the tallyman to provide an accurate calculation of their labour: ‘Please tally the quantity of bananas I’ve harvested, so that I may receive rightful compensation.’ According to the artist, when individuals sing and dance joyfully to a particular song, they may not fully comprehend the underlying message unless they take the time to analyse the lyrics. The song in question is believed to be a work song that conveys a message of rebellion.

The rebellious song proved to be a huge success. Calypso, the album, achieved remarkable success by topping the newly introduced album charts of Billboard for multiple weeks in 1956.

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Harry Belafonte, a renowned musician and actor, reportedly left high school and enlisted in the Navy several years ago. Following his service in World War II, he found employment as an assistant to a caretaker. However, his life took an unexpected turn when he received tickets to attend a performance at the American Negro Theatre. The individual was completely engrossed.

During his training, he was joined by renowned actors Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee. In addition, he began performing as a singer in various clubs. In a short period of time, he secured a recording contract.

In 1954, a Tony Award was won by him for his work in the revue titled “John Murray Anderson’s Almanack: A Musical Harlequinade.” The individual in question has graced both the silver screen and television screens, showcasing their talents in acting and entertainment. In 1959, CBS granted him a one-hour show. The Revlon Revue: Tonight With Belafonte, a show featuring a diverse cast of Black and white performers, showcased an array of dance numbers and folk songs. In a historic moment, the programme was awarded an Emmy Award, marking the first time an African American has received this prestigious accolade.

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According to sources, Revlon has reportedly requested additional shows from him. Belafonte has revealed that CBS stations located in the Southern region of the United States expressed their dissatisfaction with the integrated cast of the network. According to his statements in interviews, he was requested to create a project that solely featured Black individuals. According to the individual, they declined and subsequently departed from the programme.


Harry Belafonte, a renowned singer and actor, was a close confidant of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In 1963, he played a key role in the organisation of the Freedom March on Washington, during which King delivered his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.

According to Clarence Jones, one of the drafters of the speech, in a 2011 interview with NPR’s Fresh Air, it was Harry Belafonte who provided guidance on how to effectively utilise the influence of television. According to Jones, the individual stated that it was important to view the event not only as a march, but also as a media spectacle. Harry was tasked with organising the ‘celebrity delegation,’ comprising numerous Hollywood stars and performing artists. The individual in question was insistent that a specific strategic location on the podium be occupied by a particular group, as they were aware that the television cameras would focus on them. The individual expressed a desire to strategically position themselves in order to capture both the attention of the celebrities and the essence of the march and other performers in the same frame.

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During Dr King’s incarceration in a Birmingham jail, Harry Belafonte spearheaded efforts to raise funds for his bail. In her autobiography, Coretta Scott King expressed gratitude towards Harry for his unwavering support during difficult times. She wrote, “His generous heart wide-open, Harry has always come to our aid whenever we got into trouble or when tragedy struck.”

The relationship between Harry Belafonte and the King family became strained when the singer and actor filed a lawsuit against Martin Luther King Jr.’s estate in 2013. Belafonte attempted to auction off three documents that King had given him in order to raise funds for nonprofit work. The family accused Belafonte of “wrongfully acquiring” the documents, leading to a legal dispute. The legal dispute between Belafonte and the estate was resolved outside of court the following year, resulting in Belafonte retaining possession of the materials.

Belafonte has been recognised with several accolades for his contributions to both humanitarian causes and the arts over the course of his career. In addition, he played a key role in coordinating Nelson Mandela’s initial visit to the United States following his release from incarceration.

The individual in question was known for being a vocal opponent of those in positions of authority, including former President Barack Obama. In fact, he publicly reprimanded Obama for what he perceived as a lack of attention to the needs of impoverished individuals. During an interview, the individual specifically mentioned Jay-Z and Beyonce, both African American artists, and accused them of neglecting their social responsibilities. In his track “Nickels And Dimes,” Jay-Z issued a response, stating “Mr. Day-O, major fail.” The reconciliation between the two men eventually took place.

Renowned activist Harry Belafonte remained committed to his cause well into his 90s. During an interview with NPR in 2011, he revealed that this was a valuable lesson he learned from his mother.

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She displayed a remarkable level of tenacity when it came to preserving her dignity, refusing to let it be trampled upon. During a conversation, she recounted a day where she had difficulty securing employment. With tears welling up in her eyes, she passionately urged, “It’s crucial to never turn a blind eye to injustice.”

Belafonte’s close friend Sidney Poitier once described him as a “invaluable energy force” and a person who always displayed courage.

Renowned singer and activist Harry Belafonte is survived by his wife, Pamela Frank, along with four children, two stepchildren, and eight grandchildren.

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