AMERICAN singer, actor and civil rights activist, Harry Belafonte, who broke down racial barriers in the 1960s, has died of congestive heart failure at the age of 96 years.
Often dubbed the King of Calypso, Belafonte scored hits with Island In The Sun, Mary’s Boy Child and the UK number one Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).
But his greatest achievements were as a campaigner for black civil rights in the United States.
His spokesperson Ken Sunshine disclosed his cause of death to the New York Times and many figures including the rapper Ice Cube and Mia Farrow have paid tribute to Belafonte.
The US news anchor Christiane Amanpour tweeted that he “inspired generations around the whole world in the struggle for non-violent resistance justice and change. We need his example now more than ever”.
The Beninise-French musician Angélique Kidjo called Belafonte “the brightest star in every sense of that word. Your passion, love, knowledge and respect for Africa was unlimited”.
Bernice King, daughter of Dr Martin Luther King, shared a picture of Belafonte at her father’s funeral and said that he “showed up for my family in very compassionate ways. In fact, he paid for the babysitter for me and my siblings”.
Born in 1927, Belafonte lived his early life in abject poverty and spent his later life fighting for a variety of causes and sponsored numerous 1960s initiatives to bring civil rights to Black Americans.
He also campaigned against poverty, apartheid and AIDS in Africa and supported leftwing political figures such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
Belafonte maintained an acting career alongside music, winning a Tony award in 1954 for his appearance in the musical revue show, John Murray Anderson’s Almanac, and appearing in several films, most notably as one of the leads in Island in the Sun, along with James Mason, Joan Fontaine and Joan Collins, with whom he had an affair.
He was twice paired with Dorothy Dandridge, in Carmen Jones and Bright Road, but he turned down a third film, an adaptation of Porgy and Bess, which he found “racially demeaning”.
Belafonte was later mentored by Martin Luther King Jr and Paul Robeson, and bailed King out of a Birmingham, Alabama, jail in 1963 as well as co-organising the march on Washington that culminated in King’s “I have a dream” speech.
He also funded the Freedom Riders and SNCC, activists fighting unlawful segregation in the American South, and worked on voter registration drives.
He was a fierce proponent of leftwing politics, criticising hawkish US foreign policy, campaigning against nuclear armament, and meeting with both Castro and Chavez.
At the meeting with Chavez, in 2006, he described US president George W Bush as “the greatest terrorist in the world”.
In Africa, he focused on a series of initiatives, organising the all-star charity record We Are the World, raising more than $63 million for famine relief, and his 1988 album, Paradise in Gazankulu, protested against apartheid in South Africa.
He was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1987, and later campaigned to eradicate AIDS from Africa.
Belafonte advocated for prostate cancer awareness after recovering from the disease in 1996.