Harry Belafonte, a singer, songwriter and groundbreaking actor who started his entertainment career belting “Day O” in his 1950s hit song ‘Banana Boat’ before turning to political activism, has died at the age of 96, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
The cause of Belafonte’s death was congestive heart failure, his longtime spokesperson Ken Sunshine told the Times.
As a Black leading man who explored racial themes in 1950s movies, Belafonte would later move on to working with his friend Martin Luther King Jr. during the US civil rights movement in the early 1960s. He became the driving force behind the celebrity-studded, famine-fighting hit song ‘We Are the World’ in the 1980s.
Belafonte once said he was in a constant state of rebellion that was driven by anger.
“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.” Belafonte was born in New York City’s borough of Manhattan but spent his early childhood in his family’s native Jamaica. Handsome and suave, he came to be known as the “King of Calypso” early in his career.
He was the first Black person allowed to perform in many plush nightspots and also had racial breakthroughs in movies at a time when segregation prevailed in much of the United States.
Originally published in Dawn, April 26th, 2023