Harry Belafonte, a groundbreaking actor and trusted confidante to fellow civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., died Tuesday morning at age 96.
He passed away of congestive heart failure at his New York home with his wife, Pamela, by his side.
Born in Harlem, Belafonte started out as an actor before switching to music. His breakthrough album, 1956’s Calypso, featured his iconic songs “Jamaica Farewell” and “Day-O (Banana Boat Song).” It was also the first LP record to sell over 1 million copies.
In addition to his own music career, Belafonte was instrumental in bringing African stars like Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba to a global audience.
Belafonte was also a prime mover behind the #1 all-star charity single “We Are the World,” which raised millions of dollars for African famine relief. In 2022, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with the Early Influence Award.
Belafonte’s film career included starring roles in Carmen Jones, Uptown Saturday Night and Island in the Sun. He also produced and scored the iconic hip-hop film Beat Street.
He eventually became an EGOT winner, nabbing an Emmy, three Grammys, an Oscar and a Tony over the course of his career.
A close friend and supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Belafonte was deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement, helping to organizing the 1963 March on Washington and funding the Freedom Rides. King called Belafonte’s commitment to the cause “a powerful tactical weapon” in the fight for civil rights.
Belafonte devoted much of his life to philanthropy and humanitarian causes, serving as a Peace Corps advisor and a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, advocating for the end of apartheid in South Africa and founding The Gathering for Justice to end racial inequality in the justice system.
His many honors included the National Medal of Arts, the Kennedy Center Honors, the NAACP Spingarn Medal and the Nelson Mandela Courage Award.
Belafonte leaves behind four children — son David and daughters Shari, Adrienne and Gina; two stepchildren — Sarah and Lindsey; and eight grandchildren.
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