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Harry Belafonte, musician, actor, and activist, dies at 96

The legendary Harry Belafonte, who began his career as a vocalist with the anthem “Day O” from his hit song “Banana Boat” in the 1950s and later became an activist, has passed away at the age of 96.

On Tuesday, Belafonte passed away at his New York City home from congestive heart failure, with his wife Pamela by his side, according to a statement released by the firm of his longtime spokesperson Ken Sunshine.

Harry Belafonte – Day O!

In the 1950s, Belafonte starred in films that dealt with racial themes; in the early 1960s, he joined Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights movement as a trusted ally. He was the inspiration behind the 1980s anthem “We Are the World,” which featured a slew of A-listers singing in an effort to combat hunger.

Belafonte once claimed that his wrath was the fuel for his perpetual state of revolt.


“I’ve got to be a part of whatever the rebellion is that tries to change all this,” he told the New York Times in 2001. “The anger is a necessary fuel. Rebellion is healthy.”

His early years were spent in his family’s homeland of Jamaica, however Belafonte was born in Manhattan, a borough of New York City. Early in his career, he was dubbed the “King of Calypso” due to his good looks and smooth demeanour. During an era of widespread segregation in the United States, he made history as the first Black person to play at a number of upscale nightclubs and achieve similar success in the film industry.

Threats were purportedly made to burn down theatres in the American South when his character in “Island in the Sun” in 1954 had romantic thoughts towards a white woman played by Joan Fontaine. Belafonte’s character in the 1959 film “Odds Against Tomorrow” was a bank robber whose racist accomplice was played by James Earl Jones.

Campaigning alongside King in the 1960s, he later helped eliminate apartheid in South Africa and arranged Nelson Mandela’s first trip to the United States in the 1980s.


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