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Harry Belafonte - 1927-2023

  by Temp User

published: 26 / 5 / 2023

Harry Belafonte - 1927-2023

Harry Belafonte, singer, actor and civil rights campaigner died of heart failure at his home in Manhattan, New York on 25 April. He was 96. As well as popularising Caribbean music in the USA and UK, Belafonte went on to star in many films including ‘Carmen Jones’ and ‘Island In The Sun’. Heavily influenced by the singer and activist Paul Robeson, Belafonte used his fame to become a leading civil rights campaigner, working closely with Dr Martin Luther King. He also helped fund the movement for racial equality in the USA. Belafonte was born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr in Harlem, New York to Jamaican immigrants. His father was a chef and his mother a housekeeper. After serving in the US Navy at the end of the Second World War, Belafonte started singing in New York clubs where his backing musicians included Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. He used the payment from these performances to pay the fees for drama lessons – alongside Marlon Brando and Walter Matthau. But his musical career quickly took off. Having initially signed with the Root label, he subsequently moved to record with RCA Victor and his first major single, ‘Matilda’ was a major hit in 1953. Another early success soon afterwards was his ‘Banana Boat’ single. His 1956 album ‘Calypso’ was the first by any solo artist to achieve over one million world sales in a year (in the UK alone it also eventually sold more than one million copies) and by 1959 Belafonte was the highest paid black performer in American history. In 1985, inspired by Band Aid, Harry Belafonte organised the American all-star charity single ‘We Are The World’ to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. He was married three times and had four children and continued to perform into old age, appearing in Spike Lee's film ‘BlacKkKlansman’ in 2018. Amongst the many international tributes to Belafonte, Bill Clinton commented, “He spent 96 years breaking down barriers, bridging divides, standing up for what he believed in. His art and activism helped change America and the world for ever.” Barack and Michelle Obama said, “He was just extraordinary. A true trailblazer and a great American hero.” And American singer-songwriter John Legend added, “He gave so much, lived through so much and helped us grow so much as a nation and as a world”.

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Harry Belafonte - 1927-2023

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