Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Harry Belafonte Dies at 96

Remembering Harry Belafonte, the Singer, Actor and Activist Who Died at 96

Harry Belafonte, who passed away on April 25, 2023, at his home in Upper West Side, New York, was more than just a singer and actor. He was also a tireless activist who fought for civil rights, social justice, and humanitarian causes around the world.

Belafonte was born in Harlem in 1927, but spent part of his childhood in Jamaica, where he was exposed to the music and culture of the Caribbean. He returned to New York as a teenager and served in the US Navy during World War II. After the war, he pursued a career in acting and singing, taking classes with Marlon Brando and Walter Matthau, and performing in nightclubs with jazz legends like Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.

He made his Broadway debut in 1953 in John Murray Anderson's Almanac, for which he won a Tony Award. He also starred in several films, including Carmen Jones (1954), Island in the Sun (1957) and The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959). He became one of the first Black performers to achieve mainstream success and popularity, breaking down racial barriers and stereotypes.

But Belafonte was not content with just being an entertainer. He was also a social activist who used his fame and influence to support various causes. He was a close friend and ally of Martin Luther King Jr., whom he helped financially and politically. He organized concerts and rallies for civil rights, such as the 1963 March on Washington. He also supported anti-apartheid movements in South Africa, famine relief efforts in Ethiopia, AIDS awareness campaigns in Africa, and peace initiatives in Latin America.

Belafonte was also a vocal critic of US foreign policy, especially toward Cuba and Venezuela. He befriended Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and denounced US interventions and sanctions. He also challenged the status quo within the entertainment industry, calling out racism, sexism, and homophobia. He mentored many young artists, such as Sidney Poitier, Usher, and Common, and encouraged them to use their art as a tool for social change.

Belafonte's legacy as an artist and activist is immense and inspiring. He received numerous awards and honors for his work, including the Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Arts, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the NAACP Spingarn Medal. He also wrote two autobiographies: My Song (2011) and The Last Word (2017).

Belafonte's death was mourned by many people around the world, including President Joe Biden, who called him "a groundbreaking American who used his talent and voice to help redeem the soul of our nation." His daughter Shari Belafonte wrote an essay for Deadline, expressing her disappointment that her father was not given a special tribute at the 2024 Grammys, along with Tina Turner and Tony Bennett.

She wrote: "I believe the Grammys also missed an opportunity to remind the world that there was another great artist and humanitarian who not only changed music forever but changed lives forever."

Harry Belafonte was indeed a great artist and humanitarian who changed music and lives forever. He will be remembered for his songs, his films, his courage and his compassion. He once said: "I did all that I could." And he did.

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