Harry Belafonte, Civil Rights Legend and Entertainer, Dies at 96

He is survived by his wife Pamela, four children, two stepchildren, and eight grandchildren.

The Root is sad to report that actor, EGOT winner and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte has died at age 96. On Tuesday, a rep for Belafonte confirmed that the legendary singera pssed away due to congestive heart failure at his New York home.

Born in 1927’s Harlem, and raised in Jamaica for a portion of his life, Belafonte would evolve into an influential figure within both the arts and civil rights space in America. He broke barriers as one of the first Black leading men in Hollywood in the 1950s-1960s, often going up for roles alongside his acting contemporary and fellow barrier-breaker Sidney Poitier. Belafonte went on to star in films such as The Award Story, Island in the Sun, Odds Against Tomorrow, and perhaps most notably, Carmen Jones (co-starring Dorothy Dandridge), which received critical acclaim.

Belafonte also garnered acclaim on the musical front, where he became instrumental in bringing the music of Africa and Calypso music to the forefront of American media. For his efforts, he earned the first gold record in history after selling over 1 million LP’s for his 1956 album “Calypso,” which remained on the Billboard Top Pop Album charts for 31 weeks. In 1985, he alongside his manager along with manager Ken Kragen, directed the USA for Africa project which spawned the popular single, “We Are the World.”

As prominent as he was in the entertainment space, he was just as significant when it came to the fight for civil rights for African-Americans. A close confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and financial backer of many important social movements, Belafonte was a key organizer for the historic 1963 March on Washington, which was supported and attended by fellow giants in the arts and humanitarian spaces such as his eventual best friend Poitier, James Baldwin, Diahann Carrol, Sammy Davis Jr., Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman and many others.

Over his illustrious life and career, he was awarded many honors including but not limited to a Kennedy Center Honors for excellence in the performing arts; the Nelson Mandela Courage Award and the National Medal of Arts from the President Clinton; the NAACP’s prestigious Spingarn Medal; and Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by decree of the President of the Republic of France, the highest award bestowed by the French government.

In 2022, Belafonte was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and awarded the Early Influence Award, which is given to artists whose music and performance style have directly influenced, inspired, and evolved rock & roll and music impacting youth culture.

Belafonte is survived by his wife Pamela, four children, two stepchildren, and eight grandchildren. The Root continues to send its love, support, thoughts and prayers to all who knew and love Harry Belafonte.

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