Harry Belafonte, a civil rights and entertainment giant who started out as a groundbreaking actor and singer and later became an activist, humanitarian, and the world’s soul, has died. He was 96.
Ken Sunshine, of the public relations company Sunshine Sachs Morgan & Lylis, said that Belafonte died Tuesday at his home in New York of congestive heart failure with his wife Pamela by his side.
Belafonte was among the first black actors and singers to become famous and sell a million records. He was known for his hit “Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” and its call of “Day-O! Daaaay-O.” But he left a bigger mark on the world after he cut back on acting in the 1960s and followed the advice of his hero Paul Robeson that artists are “gatekeepers of truth.”
Belafonte Worked With Martin Luther King Jr., Who Was His Friend. He is the best example of a famous person who works for a good cause. Few people could keep up with Belafonte’s time and work, and none could match his status as a link between Hollywood, Washington, and the civil rights movement.
Belafonte participated in protest marches and charity events and helped set them up and get more people to attend. He worked closely with his friend and generational peer, Martin Luther King Jr., often speaking up for him with politicians and other celebrities and giving him money.
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He endangered his life and livelihood and set high standards for younger Black celebrities. He scolded Jay Z and Beyonce for not meeting their “social responsibilities” and helped guide Usher, Common, and Danny Glover. In Spike Lee’s 2018 movie “BlacKkKlansman,” he played a wise old man who teaches young radicals about the country’s history.
“He said, artists are the gatekeepers of truth. He said only through the world of the arts do we know who and what we are in the history of civilization,” Belafonte told Duthiers. “Long before historians. Long before people ascribe themselves as the caretakers of life and culture. The song did that, and in the black community, it was our primary tool of communication. So I saw the song as having something far more than something to delight audiences and people could dance and sing. It had content, and I began to see this content of black protest music.”
Belafonte got married three times and had four children. All of his children are still alive. He had two children with Marguerite Byrd, whom he married in 1948. Their names were Adrienne Belafonte Biesemeyer and Shari Belafonte. He also had two children with Julie Robinson, whom he married in 1957. Their names were Gina Belafonte and David Belafonte.
In 2004, he married the photographer Pamela Frank. She and his two stepchildren, Sarah Frank and Lindsey Frank, will miss him. His spokeswoman said Belafonte’s wife was with him when he died on Tuesday.
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