Harry Belafonte, Singer, Actor and Civil Rights Activist, Dies at 96

The multi-hyphenate Grammy, Emmy and Tony winner died in his Manhattan home

Harry Belafonte attends the 2016 Library Lions Gala at New York Public Library
FOLLOWING HARRY Documentary Prologue (Credit: Nasso & Zeng Productions)

Harry Belafonte, the legendary singer known for hits including “Banana Boat (Day-O)” and “Jump in the Line,” has died. He was 96.

According to a statement from Belafonte’s team, the singer died of congestive heart failure at his home.

Within the industry, Belafonte was a trailblazer and record breaker. He earned the first gold record in history for selling over 1 million LPs of his RCA album “Calypso,” a Tony for his first Broadway appearance in “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac” and, as the first Black producer in television, he won an Emmy for his CBS production of “Tonight With Belafonte”.

But, beyond his entertainment career, Belafonte was a fierce Civil Rights advocate and had a close friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Belafonte’s global popularity and his commitment to our cause is a key ingredient to the global struggle for freedom and a powerful tactical weapon in the Civil Rights movement here in America,” King once said of Belafonte. “We are blessed by his courage and moral integrity.”

Belafonte was a leading figure in ending apartheid, as well as freeing Nelson Mandela. When Mandela was eventually freed, Belafonte was chosen by the African National Congress to organize Mandela’s tour of America and later was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to be the cultural advisor for the Peace Corps. 

In 1987, Belafonte became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, making him just the second American to do so. 

Belafonte is survived by his wife; children Adrienne Belafonte Biesemeyer, Shari Belafonte, Gina Belafonte and David Belafonte; and two stepchildren Sarah Frank and Lindsey Frank. He also leaves behind eight grandchildren: Rachel Blue Biesemeyer, Brian Biesemeyer, Maria Belafonte McCray, Sarafina Belafonte, Amadeus Belafonte, Mateo Frank, Olive Scanga and Zoe Frank.