Belafonte was a champion of the civil rights movement and a UNICEF ambassador since 1987
Harry Belafonte – the barrier-breaking singer, actor and civil rights activist – has passed away at the age of 96. Belafonte died on Tuesday morning of congestive heart failure, his publicist confirmed.
Belafonte was launched to stardom following the release of his take on the Jamaican work song, “The Banana Boat Song,” containing the iconic “Day-O” shout. Other hits from the star include “Jump in the Line (Shake, Senora)” and “Jamaica Farewell.” As a Jamaican-American singer, he brought the Caribbean genre of Calypso music before an international audience, releasing his debut album Calypso in 1956.
He simultaneously had an illustrious entertainment career, landing some of the early roles of his career in the films Carmen Jones (1954), Island in the Sun (1957) and Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).
Perhaps what Belafonte is most known for, however, is his lifetime of charity and goodwill. The artist used his career to bankroll causes for the civil rights movement in the United States. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Belafonte was a close friend and confidant of Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the mentee of artist and activist Paul Robeson. He even arranged for a meeting between King JR. and President John F. Kennedy.
One of the causes Belafonte was an advocate for was the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, as well as famine and disease relief throughout Africa. A member of United Support of Artists for Africa (USA for Africa) – a coalition of musical artists including Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and more – it was Belafonte’s idea that the group should record “We Are the World” to benefit famine relief in Africa. Since 1987, Belafonte has served as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Throughout his life, Belafonte participated in countless protests, marches and benefit concerts for social justice.
“Each and every one of you in this room, with your gifts and your power and your skills, could perhaps change the way in which our global humanity mistrusts itself,” Belafonte, the 2014 recipient of the Academy’s humanitarian award, said in a speech about his ongoing commitment to political causes.