Harry Belafonte Dead at 96

Harold George Bellanfanti Jr, better known as Harry Belafonte died on April 25, 2023. Belafonte was a musician, actor, and activist who achieved worldwide popularity. He might be best known for popularizing calypso music. He was 96 years old.

Belafonte is in a select group of entertainers to have won the “Grand Slam”: Namely a Grammy, Tony, Emmy, and Oscar Award.

Belafonte started out as a traditional folk singer. His big breakthrough came in 1956 with two albums: Belafonte and Calypso, the latter of which featured music in that genre. Calypso would become the first million selling album from an artist. That album included the song that would become his signature song, Day-O: The Banana Boat Song. Following Calypso was another smash album, An Evening With Belafonte.

While Belafonte starred in several films before the smash albums, he turned his attention back to acting and appeared in films such as Island in the Sun; The World, The Flesh, and the Devil; and Odds Against Tomorrow. He would continue to work in film up until his last film, a supporting role in 2018’s BlacKkKlansman.

By the end of the 1950s, he had tuned focus turned back to music. While he was primarily known for calypso and folk, as he entered the 1960s, he branched out into other genres including blues, gospel, and show tunes. At the same time he didn’t neglect his roots in folk and calypso.

In the 1960s, Belafonte turned his attention to sociopolitical causes and became an activist. He supported the Civil Rights Movement and was a friend of Martin Luther King. He also supported Humanitarian causes. Belafonte was one of the organizers around 1985’s USA for Africa’s We Are The World and would perform at Live Aid that same year. He also was active in the Anti-Apartheid movement. Belafonte’s last studio album in 1988 Paradise in Gazankulu was themed around Anti Apartheid.

Some of Belafonte’s political positions were controversial. At various times, he made statements such as opposing the U.S. embargo on Cuba and U.S. invasion of Grenada.

Belafonte is survived by his wife Pamela, four children, two stepchildren, and eight grandchildren. 

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