By Jaelyn Scott
New Journal and Guide
Harold George Bellanfanti Jr, famously known as Harry Belafonte, has passed away. Being 96 years old, he passed away in his home in Manhattan due to congestive heart failure, according to his longtime spokesperson, Ken Sunshine.
In a statement of condolence, National Urban League CEO Marc Morial, said, “The passing of civil rights icon Harry Belafonte leaves a devastating void in the racial justice community. Before his rise, no entertainer had ever used the platform and resources his fame afforded him to accomplish so much. His personal and financial support was critical to every major event of the Civil Rights Movement, from the Freedom Rides and the Birmingham Campaign to the March on Washington and the Freedom Summer of voter registration.”
Born in Harlem, New York to Jamaican-born parents, Belafonte grew to fall in love with the art form of music and theatre at an early age, shortly after he was discharged from the Navy after his service in World War II. He became an icon in the music scene and the theatre scene, starting out as a club singer before he signed with RCA Victor in 1953, a label he recorded with until 1974.
During his music career, he created top hits with Caribbean music, with songs such as “Day-O” and “Jamaica Farewell,” being well received by the public. Both of those singles were released in his most famous album, Calypso, which became the first album to sell over a million copies by a single artist.
It stayed at the top of Billboard’s top 100 for about 7 months straight.
By 1959, he became the highest paying Black performer in history. Belafonte also had his hand in performance, his first film performance being in 1953, starring in “Bright Road” alongside his co-star Dorothy Dandridge. He has also been in films such as “Carmen Jones,” “Islands of the Sun,” and the “Odds Against Tomorrow.” His most recent film appearance was in Spike Lee’s “The BlacKkKlansmen.”
Belafonte was also well known when it came to Civil Rights, befriending powerful figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and even helped provide for him during his time as a preacher, as well as bailing King out of jail and assisting with organizing the 1963 March on Washington. He supported the Civil Rights movement, participating in the March on Washington, and contributing money to organizations and protests such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Freedom Riders.
Belafonte was a known friend of Sidney Poitier, a Black actor, film director, and diplomat who died last year on January 6, 2022. They met while they were both studying acting at the American Negro Theatre, bonding over their shared feelings of wanting to make bigger things along with their shared west indie’s roots, with Belafonte even saying that he felt that Poiter was truly his bother.
He is survived by his wife, Pamela Frank, four children and three stepchildren.