Legendary entertainer Harry Belafonte has passed away, according to his spokesperson. He was 96.
Longtime spokeswoman Ken Sunshine told NBC News that Belafonte passed away in New York City from congestive heart failure.
He was a barrier-breaking civil rights activist, charismatic singer and actor, who gained notoriety in the 1950s.
More than six decades have passed since the record “Calypso” was released in 1956, which cemented Belafonte’s legacy.
It was significant that Mr. Belafonte rose to the top of the entertainment world at a time when Black representation on both big and small screens was rare and segregation was still entrenched.
“My friend, Harry Belafonte, was truly a man of cause, conviction and principle. Besides being a great entertainer, he was a major political activist during the Civil Rights movement. I still remember the day in 1968 when Harry and I marched side by side on the Poor People’s March to Freedom. He will be missed and my sincere condolences go out to his family,” Berry Gordy stated.
Born to Jamaican immigrant parents, Mr. Belafonte lived in poverty as a child in Harlem during the Great Depression before becoming a significant crossover success in mainstream music. Throughout his five decades as a movie, television, and stage star, he continued to break down numerous barriers.
He was the first Black man to get a Tony Award for best interpreting American and Caribbean folk music in the 1953 revue “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.”
Six years later, he became the first African American producer to win an Emmy Award for the CBS program Tonight with Belafonte, which used song to tell the tale of Black American history.
Mr. Belafonte played Joan Fontaine’s love interest in Island in the Sun (1957), which was released a year after the Production Code of the film industry repealed its ban on depicting interethnic sexual relationships in motion pictures. He played the first Black matinee idol for general audiences in that potboiler.
He regularly combined his humanitarian efforts with his artistic endeavors because he believed that “the role of art isn’t just to show life as it is, but to show life as it should be.”
Being close to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Belafonte spent years serving as a bridge between the civil rights movement and the entertainment hubs of Hollywood and New York.
Through initiatives like the “We Are the World” recording and performances in 1985, he also leveraged his influence to support the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and famine relief.
Belafonte’s journey was highlighted in the latest episode of Unsung Presents Best in Black: Activists. Catch up anytime On Demand or on the TV One app.
We remember his legacy as a ground breaking pioneer in the entertainment business and beyond.
At this most difficult time, TV One extends our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of Harry Belafonte, as well as they many people whose lives he inspired.
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