Harry Belafonte, RIP
Harry Belafonte, musician, calypso star, civil rights activist and humanitarian, died at his home on Manhattan's Upper West Side on Tuesday morning (4/25). He was 96. From The New York Times obituary:
At a time when segregation was still widespread and Black faces were still a rarity on screens large and small, Mr. Belafonte’s ascent to the upper echelon of show business was historic. He was not the first Black entertainer to transcend racial boundaries; Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and others had achieved stardom before him. But none had made as much of a splash as he did, and for a few years no one in music, Black or white, was bigger.
Born in Harlem to West Indian immigrants, he almost single-handedly ignited a craze for Caribbean music with hit records like “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.” His album “Calypso,” which contained both those songs, reached the top of the Billboard album chart shortly after its release in 1956 and stayed there for 31 weeks. Coming just before the breakthrough of Elvis Presley, it was said to be the first album by a single artist to sell more than a million copies.
In addition to his music, Belafonte became a key figure in the '50s/'60s civil rights movement, and was a close friend and ally of Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, providing a seed investment for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and frequently paid bail for civil right activists. Pop and political activism were always intertwined for him.
Belafonte also acted in movies, won a Tony for his role in John Murray Anderson's Almanac, and among his many other accolades, he was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor in 1998, awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1994, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year.
Rest in peace, Harry.