Grammy-winning singer Harry Belafonte, an entertainment giant and civil rights icon, has died. He was 96.
Belafonte died of congestive heart failure at his New York home. His wife Pamela Belafonte was by his side, shares publicist Ken Sunshine. Belafonte is perhaps most well-known for his hit, “Banana Boat Song (Day-O),” and its familiar refrain. Belafonte scaled back his entertainment activities in the 1960s to become a celebrity activist, joining the civil rights movement through protest marches, benefit concerts, and became an organizer of events like this.
Belafonte worked closely with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., helping him financially while speaking on his behalf with politicians and other celebrities. In more recent years, he scolded Jay-Z and Beyoncé, saying they’ve failed to meet their ‘social responsibilities’ as pillars of the Black celeb community.
During an interview in which he was asked if he was happy with the image of members of minorities in Hollywood, Belafonte minced no words. “Not at all,” he told the reporter. “They have not told the history of our people, nothing of who we are. We are still looking. And I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay-Z and Beyonce, for example. Give me Bruce Springsteen, and now you’re talking. I really think he is black.”
Harry Belafonte has been a major artist since the 1950s. He won a Tony Award in 1954 for his starring role in John Murray Anderson’s ‘Almanac.’ In 1959, he became the first Black performer to win an Emmy for the TV special, ‘Tonight with Harry Belafonte.’ Belafonte’s 1957 movie “Island in the Sun” was banned across much of the South because of the film’s interracial romance between Belafonte and Joan Fontaine.
He released “Calypso,” in 1955, which became the first offically certified million-selling album by a solo performer. It also earned Belafonte the nickname ‘King of Calypso’ and began an infatuation with Caribbean rhythm. “Harry was the best balladeer in the land and everybody knew it,” Bob Dylan wrote of the singer. “Harry was that rare type of character that radiates greatness, and you hope that some of it rubs off on you.”