Harry Belafonte, a renowned singer, actor, and activist known for his contribution to introducing Caribbean music and bankrolling the civil rights movement, died on Tuesday at the age of 96.
Harry Belafonte Cause Of Death
Ken Sunshine, his longtime spokesman, confirmed that his exact cause of death was congestive heart failure.
He gained fame in the entertainment industry as an actor and singer, breaking new ground for Black Americans in the 1950s.
Belafonte’s music career took off when he recorded popular renditions of Caribbean folk and calypso songs, most famously the “Day-O (Banana Boat Song)”.
He used his considerable wealth and publicity to support civil rights and other progressive causes throughout his life.
He also co-chaired the national Women’s March protests against former President Donald Trump in January 2017, reigniting his passion for social justice.
Harold George Bellanfanti Jr., who later changed his name to Harry Belafonte, was born to Jamaican immigrants on March 1, 1927, in Manhattan.
His mother changed their family name to avoid detection by immigration authorities. Belafonte spent part of his childhood in Jamaica, then returned to Manhattan for high school.
Belafonte joined the U.S. Navy during World War II at age 17. He experienced racism in the military, which left a lasting impression on him.
After his service, he decided not to reenlist, as he was tired of the constant incidents of prejudice.
Belafonte stumbled upon his love for acting while working as a janitor, when a tenant provided him with a ticket to attend a play at the American Negro Theater in Harlem. He volunteered at the theater and eventually landed his first acting roles there.
It was also where he met his friend and fellow Carribbean-American trailblazer, Sidney Poitier.
With help from the GI Bill, Belafonte took acting classes at the Dramatic Workshop of New York’s New School, where he studied alongside Hollywood legends Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau and Tony Curtis. He began his musical career with a singing role in a college play, leading to nightclub appearances and a recording contract.