Harry Belafonte: Legendary singer and civil rights activist has died, aged 96

25 April 2023, 15:19

Harry Belafonte has died, aged 96
Harry Belafonte has died, aged 96. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Harry Belafonte, one of the most successful singers of the 20th century, has died aged 96.

He was one of the most successful African-American pop singers in history, with hits such as 'Island In The Sun', 'Mary's Boy Child' and 'Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)'.

Harry Belafonte went on to achieve great success as a campaigner for black civil rights in the US.

He died of congestive heart failure, his spokesman Ken Sunshine confirmed.

Belafonte was known as one of the most successful Jamaican-American singers in history, and was nicknamed the 'King of Calypso' for popularizing the Caribbean musical style around the world in the 1950s.

Singer Harry Belafonte
Singer Harry Belafonte. Picture: Getty

He performed in many music genres, including blues, folk, gospel, musicals, and American standards.

He was also an actor, appearing in several films, including Carmen Jones (1954), Island in the Sun (1957), and Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

His song 'Banana Boat Song' found further popularity in the 1980s when it was used in the movie Beetlejuice.

Belafonte's political beliefs were inspired by singer and Communist activist Paul Robeson, who mentored him. Robeson opposed not racial prejudice in the United States and western colonialism in Africa.

Harry Belafonte was an early supporter of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s and was a close confidant of Martin Luther King Jr.

He has been an advocate for various political and humanitarian causes, such as the Anti-Apartheid Movement and USA for Africa.

Since 1987, he has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. He also acts as the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.

Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)

In 2001, he travelled to South Africa to support the campaign against HIV/AIDS. In 2004, Belafonte went to Kenya to highlight the importance of educating children in the country.

Belafonte was also involved in prostate cancer advocacy since 1996, when he was diagnosed and successfully treated for the disease.

His mother was born in Jamaica, and was the child of a Scottish white mother and a black father. His father also was born in Jamaica, and was the child of a black mother and Dutch Jewish father of Sephardi origins.

Belafonte was married to Marguerite Byrd from 1948 to 1957. They had two daughters: Adrienne and Shari.

Adrienne and her daughter Rachel Blue later founded the Anir Foundation/Experience, which focuses on humanitarian work in southern Africa. Shari is a photographer, model, singer, and actress.

In 1957, Belafonte married his second wife Julie Robinson, a former dancer. They had two children, David and Gina. After 47 years of marriage, Belafonte and Robinson divorced.