Harry Belafonte Dead at 96

Singer, Actor, Activist

Iconic singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte died on Tuesday at his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He was 96.

The cause was congestive heart failure.

In the 1950s, when segregation was still widespread, his ascent to the upper echelon of show business was historic. But his primary focus was civil rights.

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.” Before the Elvis Presley era, his hit album “Calypso” was the first to sell a million copies by a single artist.

His successful singing career led to movie offers, and was the first Black man to achieve major success in Hollywood — although quickly replaced by Sidney Poitier as a matinee idol.

But Belafonte’s primary focus from the late 1950s on was civil rights. He befriended Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and became an ardent lifelong supporter. Belafonte bailed Dr. King and other civil rights activists out of jail. He discreetly maintained an insurance policy on Dr. King’s life, with the King family as the beneficiary, and donated his own money to make sure that the family was taken care of after Dr. King was assassinated in 1968.

Below is a PBS interview from 2018 on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

Belafonte took part in the March on Washington in 1963.

He remained politically active to the end. On Election Day 2016, The Times published an opinion article by Mr. Belafonte urging people not to vote for Donald J. Trump, whom he called “feckless and immature.”

“Mr. Trump asks us what we have to lose,” he wrote, referring to African American voters, “and we must answer: Only the dream, only everything.”

New York Times