Famed actor, singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte died Tuesday at his home in Manhattan at the age of 96. Belafonte’s longtime representative, Ken Sunshine, confirmed in a press release that Belafonte died Tuesday morning “of congestive heart failure at his New York home at the age of 96, his wife Pamela [Frank] by his side.”
The Jamaican-American Belafonte rose to prominence as an entertainer in the 1950s, appearing in films like Carmen Jones (1954), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), and The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959). Belafonte made acting history twice: he was the first black man to win a Tony (in 1954 for ‘Almanac’) and the first to win an Emmy (in 1959 for ‘An Evening with Belafonte’).
His successful music career which skyrocketed with the release of the 1955 album Belafonte. Known as the ‘King of Calypso’, Belafonte brought Caribbean music to a global audience with his 1956 breakthrough album, Calypso, featuring the hits “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” “Jump in the Line” and “Jamaica Farewell.” Calypso became the first LP ever to sell one million copies; and to this day, Belafonte remains one of the best-selling recording artists in history.
Despite his success in the entertainment world, Belafonte saw himself first and foremost as “a civil rights warrior.” His focus turned to the civil rights movement in the late 1950s, and he became an outspoken activist who was a confidant of his friend, Martin Luther King Jr. Belafonte was named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1987. His humanitarian work led to him receiving an honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, from the Academy in 2014. Belafonte remained a crusader for social justice until the end of his life, and in one of his final acts of charity, the singer celebrated his 94th birthday in March 2021 with a star-studded virtual party that raised money for ‘The Gathering for Justice’, a social justice organization he founded in 2005. Last year, Belafonte was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the ‘Early Influence’ category, becoming the oldest living person to join the organization.
Belafonte married his third wife, photographer Pamela Frank, in 2008, and is survived by children Adrienne Belafonte Biesemeyer, Shari Belafonte, David Belafonte and Gina Belafonte as well as two stepchildren Sarah Frank and Lindsey Frank. He also has eight grandchildren: Rachel Blue Biesemeyer, Brian Biesemeyer, Maria Belafonte McCray, Sarafina Belafonte, Amadeus Belafonte, Mateo Frank, Olive Scanga and Zoe Frank.
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