Popular Artiste Harry Belafonte Is Dead

Harry Belafonte, the singer, actor and civil rights activist who broke down racial barriers, has died aged 96.

As well as performing global hits such as Day-O (The Banana Boat Song), winning a Tony award for acting and appearing in numerous feature films, Belafonte spent his life fighting for a variety of causes. He bankrolled numerous 1960s initiatives to bring civil rights to Black Americans; campaigned against poverty, apartheid and Aids in Africa; and supported leftwing political figures such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

The cause of death was congestive heart failure, his spokesman told the New York Times. Figures including the rapper Ice Cube and Mia Farrow paid tribute to Belafonte. The US news anchor Christiane Amanpour tweeted that he “inspired generations around the whole world in the struggle for non-violent resistance justice and change. We need his example now more than ever.”

Bernice King, daughter of Dr Martin Luther King, shared a picture of Belafonte at her father’s funeral and said that he “showed up for my family in very compassionate ways. In fact, he paid for the babysitter for me and my siblings.” The Beninese-French musician Angélique Kidjo called Belafonte “the brightest star in every sense of that word. Your passion, love, knowledge and respect for Africa was unlimited.”

Belafonte was born in 1927 in working-class Harlem, New York, and spent eight years of his childhood in his impoverished parents’ native Jamaica. He returned to New York for high school but struggled with dyslexia and dropped out in his early teens. He took odd jobs working in markets and the city’s garment district, and then signed up to the US navy aged 17 in March 1944, working as a munitions loader at a base in New Jersey.

After the war ended, he worked as a janitor’s assistant, but aspired to become an actor after watching plays at New York’s American Negro Theatre (along with fellow aspiring actor Sidney Poitier). He took acting classes – where his classmates included Marlon Brando and Walter Matthau – paid for by singing folk, pop and jazz numbers at New York club gigs, where he was backed by groups whose members included Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.

He released his debut album in 1954, a collection of traditional folk songs. His second album, Belafonte, was the first No 1 in the new US Billboard album chart in March 1956, but its success was outdone by his third album the following year, Calypso, featuring songs from his Jamaican heritage. It brought the feelgood calypso style to many Americans for the first time, and became the first album to sell more than a million copies in the US.

The lead track was Day-O (The Banana Boat Song), a signature song for Belafonte – it spent 18 weeks in the UK singles chart, including three weeks at No 2. His version of Mary’s Boy Child was a UK chart-topper later that year, while Island in the Sun reached No 3. He released 30 studio albums, plus collaborative albums with Nana Mouskouri, Lena Horne and Miriam Makeba. The latter release won him one of his two Grammy awards; he was later awarded a lifetime achievement Grammy and the Academy’s president’s merit award.

Bob Dylan’s first recording – playing harmonica – was on Belafonte’s 1962 album, Midnight Special. The previous year, Belafonte had been hired by Frank Sinatra to perform at John F Kennedy’s presidential inauguration.

Source: Guardian UK


Chris Kehinde Nwandu is the Editor In Chief of CKNNEWS || He is a Law graduate and an Alumnus of Lagos State University, Lead City University Ibadan and Nigerian Institute Of Journalism || With over 2 decades practice in Journalism, PR and Advertising, he is a member of several Professional bodies within and outside Nigeria || Member: Institute Of Chartered Arbitrators ( UK ) || Member : Institute of Chartered Mediators And Conciliation || Member : Nigerian Institute Of Public Relations || Member : Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria || Fellow : Institute of Personality Development And Customer Relationship Management || Member and Chairman Board Of Trustees: Guild Of Professional Bloggers of Nigeria

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