Remembering Harry Belafonte

Remembering Harry Belafonte: singer, actor, and activist

In a tribute to the late Jamaican-American singer, we will be remembering Harry Belafonte for his illustrious career and impact in the civil rights movement. At the age of 96, Belafonte passed away from congestive heart failure at his home in New York, as confirmed by his publicist.

Belafonte overcame racial boundaries and managed to combine his artistic talent with his advocacy in a way that captivated audiences all over the world. Belafonte, an EGOT recipient for his Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony accolades, was a true performer. His recordings for RCA Victor in the 1950s featured his rendition of the Jamaican folk song “Day-O” (The Banana Boat Song) and helped launch the calypso music craze.

At a period when much of America was still segregated, audiences of all races appreciated Belafonte. Born in Harlem, his mother was Jamaican and his father was from the island of Martinique. His mother, a cleaning lady, took him back to Jamaica, where he was exposed to the local way of life. According to NPR, his recording of “The Banana Boat Song” was inspired by the vendors Belafonte heard singing in the streets of Jamaica.

Remembering Harry Belafonte
Harry Belafonte Television and Video Archive | YouTube

However, Belafonte’s lifetime of generosity and goodwill may be what makes him most well-known. The artist funded the American civil rights movement’s causes with the proceeds from his career. Belafonte was mentored by artist and activist Paul Robeson throughout the 1950s and 1960s and was a personal friend and confidant of Martin Luther King Jr.

It was Belafonte’s idea to record “We Are the World” to support famine relief in Africa. Belafonte is a member of United Support of Artists for Africa (USA for Africa), a coalition of musical artists that also includes Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, and many more. Belafonte has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 1987 and took part in innumerable protests and concerts to raise money for social justice throughout his life.

“Each and every one of you in this room, with your gifts and your power and your skills, could perhaps change the way in which our global humanity mistrusts itself,” said Belafonte as he received the Academy‘s humanitarian award in 2014.

Remembering Harry Belafonte (The Banana Boat Song)

Remembering Harry Belafonte (Jump In The Line)

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