At the age of 96, American singer Harry Belafonte passed away at his Manhattan Upper West Side residence.
On Tuesday, April 25, the musician, actor, and civil rights crusader who dismantled racial barriers passed away.
According to Ken Sunshine, his longtime spokesman, congestive heart failure was the reason for his demise.
With his very personal brand of folk music, Belafonte stormed the pop charts and broke through racial barriers in the 1950s. He later went on to become a powerful influence in the civil rights movement.
With hits like “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell,” Belafonte nearly single-handedly launched a craze for Caribbean music. Both of those songs were on his album “Calypso,” which was released in 1956 and quickly rose to the top of the Billboard album list where it remained for 31 weeks. It was regarded as the first record by a single artist to sell more than a million copies, and it came out right before Elvis Presley’s big break.
After receiving movie offers as a result of his musical popularity, Mr. Belafonte quickly became the first Black actor to have significant success as a leading man in Hollywood.
He met the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. early in his career and became not only a longtime friend but also a fervent advocate of Dr. King and the cause of racial equality he symbolized. He contributed a large portion of the initial funding to create the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and served as one of the main fund-raisers for both that group and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
He contributed cash to free Dr. King and other civil rights activists from prison. He participated in the 1963 March on Washington. Dr. King’s large apartment on West End Avenue in Manhattan became his temporary residence. To ensure that the King family was taken care of after Dr. King was slain in 1968, he secretly kept an insurance policy on the doctor’s life with the King family listed as the beneficiary. He also made a donation of his own money.