Harry Belafonte, often referred to as “the King of Calypso”, has died at 96 years old. His representative Paula Witt confirmed that his cause of death was congestive heart failure. Belafonte is known for his Caribbean-pop hits “Jump In The Line” “Banana Boat” and more. His notable films include “The Buck And The Preacher,” “White Man’s Burden,” and more. The actor and musician dedicated much of his later career to philanthropy and activism.
The multi-hyphenate grew up in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. He wrote in a memoir in 2011 that he “wasn’t an artist who became an activist. I was an activist who became an artist.” Belafonte notably supported organizations that specialize in cancer research, and played an important role in the Civil Rights movement. Given his own mixed Caribbean heritage, Belafonte was also an outspoken critic of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
Today, Belafonte’s various contributions to both the arts and progressive causes are being honored by his contemporaries. Bernice A. King, the CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and the daughter of Marin Luther King Jr., posted a powerful image of Belafonte at her father’s funeral. King penned a tribute not only about his contributions to her family’s movement, but also his compassion.
When I was a child, #HarryBelafonte showed up for my family in very compassionate ways.
In fact, he paid for the babysitter for me and my siblings.
Here he is mourning with my mother at the funeral service for my father at Morehouse College.
I won’t forget…Rest well, sir. pic.twitter.com/31OC1Ajc0V
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) April 25, 2023
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders additionally shared a photo alongside the singer, reminding his Twitter followers that Belafonte also worked to help protect the rights of workers. Sanders has long been an advocate for labor unions, and is currently fighting Starbucks on allegations of union busting.
Harry Belafonte was not only a great entertainer, but he was a courageous leader in the fight against racism and worker oppression. Jane and I were privileged to consider him a friend and will miss him very much. pic.twitter.com/TO2xrz0GJF
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 25, 2023
Journalist Christiane Amanpour additionally shared a memory with Belafonte on social media. Amanpour credited him with inspiring generations of activists to come.
May Harry Belafonte, the lionhearted civil rights hero, rest in peace. 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. pic.twitter.com/oBTBBvx3ra
— Christiane Amanpour (@amanpour) April 25, 2023
Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick also shared a photo from his meeting with the late singer. Kaepernick famously made headlines for taking a knee during the national anthem at NFL games to protest police brutality against the Black community.
Thank you, Mr. B, for all of your years of mentorship, guidance, & lifetime of activism fighting for a better future for all of us. You will be missed by many, but your memory & impact live on. Rest in Power.
“Movements don't die, because struggle doesn't die.”
-Harry Belafonte pic.twitter.com/bCArTOtCC2
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) April 25, 2023
Others share memories of some of the late multi-hyphenate’s most notable works as an actor and musician.
This is one of my favorite pictures of anyone at any time. Dorothy looks like art and Harry Belafonte looks like an art connoisseur. RIP Mr. Belafonte 🕊️ pic.twitter.com/P1VxsByRsN
— Felonious Munk (@Felonious_munk) April 25, 2023
Harry, I will always treasure the wonderful conversations we had. Thank you for inspiring the world to fight for Freedom and Humanity🙏🏼❤️🙏🏼❤️ We will always Speak Your Name! #HarryBelafonte pic.twitter.com/C8biCNsSki
— Debbie Allen (@msdebbieallen) April 25, 2023
Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte in ‘Carmen Jones’ pic.twitter.com/P2cvMvPhj9
— Ave (@SebastianAvenue) April 25, 2023
He is survived by his wife, Pamela Frank, and his four children, Shari Belafonte, Adrienne Belafonte Biesmeyer, David Belafonte, and Gina Belafonte.