Harry Belafonte, the iconic musician and civil rights activist, passed away today, April 15th, 2023, at the age of 95. Belafonte was a pioneering figure in the music industry, known for his distinctive voice and his ability to blend different genres and cultures. He was also a passionate advocate for social justice, using his platform to raise awareness about issues such as racial inequality and poverty.
Born Harold George Belafonte Jr. in Harlem, New York, on March 1st, 1928, Belafonte was raised by his mother, a Jamaican immigrant. He had a difficult childhood, marked by poverty and a turbulent relationship with his father, who was absent for most of his life. Despite these challenges, Belafonte excelled in school and became interested in acting and music. He served in the US Navy during World War II and afterwards attended the New School for Social Research, where he studied drama.
Belafonte began his career as a performer in the 1950s, singing in nightclubs and coffeehouses in New York City. He quickly gained a following for his smooth voice and his repertoire of folk songs and calypso music. In 1956, he released his breakthrough album, “Calypso,” which became the first LP in history to sell over a million copies. The album included the hit song “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” which would become one of Belafonte’s signature tunes.
In addition to his music career, Belafonte was deeply involved in the civil rights movement. He was a close friend and ally of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and helped to organize the March on Washington in 1963. He also worked with other prominent activists such as Sidney Poitier and James Baldwin, using his fame to raise awareness about issues such as police brutality and voter suppression. Belafonte was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, and participated in anti-war demonstrations throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Belafonte’s activism did not come without personal cost. He was blacklisted by the entertainment industry during the McCarthy era, and was subject to surveillance and harassment by the FBI. Despite these obstacles, he continued to use his platform to speak out for justice and equality including LGBT rights.
In addition to his music and activism, Belafonte was a successful actor, appearing in films such as “Carmen Jones,” “Island in the Sun,” and “Buck and the Preacher.” He also served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, working to raise awareness about global poverty and children’s rights.
Belafonte was widely recognized for his contributions to music and social justice. He received numerous awards throughout his career, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Medal of Arts, and the Kennedy Center Honors. In 2018, the Harry Belafonte Jr. Library for the Performing Arts was established in his honor at his alma mater, the New School.
Belafonte is survived by his wife, Pamela Frank, and his children, Adrienne and David. His legacy as a musician, activist, and humanitarian will continue to inspire future generations.
Grand Marshal Harry Belafonte leads the 2013 New York Gay Pride Parade as it makes it’s way down Fifth Avenue in New York, NY, on June 30, 2013. Belafonte is one of the few straight men who have ever been chose as Grand Marshall