The Legendary ‘King of Calypso’ and Activist Harry Belafonte Dies at 96
Harry Belafonte, who rose to international stardom after his groundbreaking 1956 hit, “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O),” has died at age 96.
On Tuesday, April 25, the Jamaican-American musician, actor, and human rights activist died at his Manhattan, New York, home. His publicist, Ken Sunshine, told The Washington Post that the cause of death was linked to congestive heart failure.
The King of Calypso
Born on March 1, 1927, in Harlem, New York City, Belafonte spent his early years in his mother’s home country of Jamaica before she relocated her two sons back to New York in search of better job opportunities.
Belafonte developed his love for music in Jamaica, becoming a major Black crossover success. From folk music to calypso, Belafonte was nicknamed the ‘King of Calypso’ for popularizing the Caribbean musical style worldwide in the 1950s.
“The role of art isn’t just to show life as it is but to show life as it should be,” Belafonte once said, per the Washington Post.
Living in rebellion
According to CNN, Belafonte has lived in a constant state of rebellion.
“Without the rebellious heart, without people who understand that there’s no sacrifice we can make that is too great to retrieve that which we’ve lost, we will forever be distracted with possessions and trinkets and title,” Belafonte once said.
While growing his career in the arts, Belafonte became a fierce advocate for civil rights. He spent years as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s confidant and served as a liaison between the civil rights movement and Hollywood. He helped promote the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and famine relief through efforts such as the “We Are the World” recording and concerts in the ’80s.
“I’ve often responded to queries that ask, ‘When as an artist did you decide to become an activist?’” he once said,“My response to the question is that I was an activist long before I became an artist. They both service each other, but the activism is first.”
Breaking into Hollywood
Belafonte became a movie star after acting in the film adaption of the Broadway musical, “Carmen Jones,” in 1954, and the rest is history.
He went on to win an Emmy for outstanding performance in a variety or musical program or series in 1960 for The Revlon Revue: Tonight With Belafonte on CBS. The win was trailblazing, as Belafonte became the first Black person to take home the coveted award.
In response to Belafonte’s passing, social media is mourning. Many people, including Bernice King, the daughter of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., reflected on how much Belafonte has impacted their lives.
When I was a child, #HarryBelafonte showed up for my family in very compassionate ways.
In fact, he paid for the babysitter for me and my siblings.
Here he is mourning with my mother at the funeral service for my father at Morehouse College.
I won’t forget…Rest well, sir. pic.twitter.com/31OC1Ajc0V
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) April 25, 2023
I am deeply sad at the loss of my very dear brother – the great Harry Belafonte! His artistic genius, moral courage & loving soul shall live forever! God bless his precious family! pic.twitter.com/Tao5h6FMLh
— Cornel West (@CornelWest) April 25, 2023
Harry Belafonte — a tireless activist, EGOT winner, and successful singer — has died at 96. Through his extraordinary contributions, including his notable advocacy for human rights and social justice, he leaves an indelible mark on this world. Rest In Power, Mr. Belafonte. pic.twitter.com/xRAr8KL98T
— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) April 25, 2023