Harry Belafonte, the renowned American singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist, has died at age 96, his spokesperson Ken Sunshine confirmed on April 25, 2023. Belafonte passed away in his longtime Upper West Side home, surrounded by family and loved ones.
Born on March 1, 1927, in Harlem to Jamaican and Martiniquais immigrants, Belafonte spent much of his childhood in Jamaica before returning to New York at age 13. After dropping out of school to join the Navy during World War II, Belafonte found a career on the stage, both starring and composing for his Broadway debut, John Murray Anderson’s Almanac, for which he received both a Theatre World Award and the 1954 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.
Belafonte is best known for his signature rendition of “The Banana Boat Song,” featuring the memorable refrain “Day-O,” which was later featured in the hit movie Beetlejuice. He performed in many genres, including blues, folk, gospel, show tunes, and American standards.
Throughout his career, Belafonte remained a vocal advocate for political and human rights causes. He was an early supporter of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s, and he worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as one of the principal fundraisers for King and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Belafonte won three Grammy Awards, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award, and he received the Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts. In 2014, he received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Academy’s 6th Annual Governors Awards.
Belafonte was not only an entertainer and civil rights activist, but he was also a devoted family man. He was married to his wife, Marguerite Byrd, from 1948 until her death in 1998. The couple had two children, Adrienne and David.
The death of Harry Belafonte marks the end of an era in American music and activism. His legacy as a trailblazer in the entertainment industry and a fierce advocate for civil rights will continue to inspire generations to come.