Singer, actor and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte died Tuesday at his home in Manhattan, according to multiple reports. He was 96.
Belafonte’s longtime spokesman, Ken Sunshine, told The New York Times and The Washington Post that he died of congestive heart failure. Sunshine told The Associated Press that Belafonte’s wife, Pamela, was by his side.
A groundbreaking performer, Belafonte is known by many for his signature 1956 hit “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O).” He joined Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and became one of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest confidants.
Born in Harlem, Belafonte spent years of his childhood living in his parents’ native Jamaica. He joined the Navy in the 1940s and served during World War II before returning to New York, where he used his G.I. Bill benefits to fund acting classes at The New School Dramatic Workshop. He learned alongside future actors Marlon Brando and Sidney Poitier, with whom he forged a lifelong friendship.
He sang in clubs to help pay for his acting classes, sometimes performing with legendary jazz musicians Charlie Parker, Max Roach and Miles Davis. He launched his recording career in 1949, singing pop on the Roost label. Later, he developed an interest in folk music.
In 1952, he signed on to RCA Victor. One year later, he recorded his signature audience participation song “Matilda.” His breakthrough album, 1956′s “Calypso” became the first long-playing record in the world to sell more than 1 million copies in a year.
Belafonte was an early supporter of the Civil Rights Movement and advocated for political and humanitarian causes throughout his life. He organized demonstrations, raised money and contributed funds in support of civil rights. In 1985, he helped to bring the iconic “We Are The World” charity song and music video — written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and featuring Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and more — to life.
He earned several accolades over his lifetime. In 1959, he became the first African American man to win an Emmy with his TV special, “Tonight with Belafonte.” In 1994, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. He won three Grammy Awards, including a lifetime achievement award in 2015. In 2022, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Friends, fans and more took to social media to remember Belafonte on Tuesday.
Belafonte is survived by his wife, four children, two stepchildren and eight grandchildren, NPR reported.
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