Today, the world mourns the passing of Harry Belafonte, the legendary actor, singer, and civil rights activist, who died at the age of 96 in his home.
Belafonte, born in Harlem, was one of the first Black performers to see widespread popularity across the United States with his songs “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center wrote, “Harry Belafonte was a passionate civil rights icon whose contributions through the arts continue to inspire our fight for the freedom and liberation of Black and Brown people today. A strong supporter of Martin Luther King, Jr., Mr. Belafonte used his celebrity to quietly underwrite the civil rights movement. When necessary, he solicited famous friends and even financed the movement himself — paying bail money and hospital bills and organizing a committee that raised $50,000 to continue the Birmingham Campaign after Dr. King’s arrest.”
Belafonte’s career spanned over six decades, during which he not only entertained audiences with his music and acting but also worked tirelessly as an activist for civil rights and humanitarian causes. He was a close friend and ally of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and his contributions to the civil rights movement cannot be overstated.
Belafonte’s album “Calypso,” released in 1956, remained at the top of the Billboard album chart for 31 weeks and helped popularize Caribbean-style music in the United States. He won three Grammy Awards, an Emmy Award, a Tony Award, and received the Kennedy Center Honors.
His legacy as a cultural icon will continue to inspire generations to come. Joy Bivins, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, said in a statement, “Mr. Belafonte was a cultural icon whose impact on Black history was far-reaching, from his legendary contributions as an artist to his human and civil rights activism. His legacy will burn bright for generations to come.”
Belafonte’s commitment to civil rights and his work as an activist became his greatest focus in life. He participated in the March on Washington in 1963 and donated his own money to the family after King was assassinated. Belafonte’s dedication to humanitarian causes continued throughout his life, and he served as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF.
Harlem, the neighborhood where Belafonte was born, played a significant role in shaping his worldview and artistic sensibilities. As a hub of African-American culture and activism, Harlem provided Belafonte with a community of like-minded individuals and a platform to express himself through his art.
The passing of Harry Belafonte is a great loss not only to Harlem but to the world. His contributions as an artist and activist will never be forgotten, and his legacy will continue to inspire generations to come.
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