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IN MEMORIAM: Harry Belafonte, Entertainment Icon and Human Rights Activist , Dies at 96

NNPA NEWSWIRE —  Known globally for both for his artistic ingenuity and humanitarian ideals, Belafonte became an early, vocal supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, a confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and financial backer of countless historic political and social causes and events, including the anti-Apartheid Movement, equal rights for women, juvenile justice, climate change and the decolonization of Africa.

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Harry Belafonte at the Vienna International Film Festival 2011. Photo: Manfred Werner / Wikimedia Commons
Harry Belafonte at the Vienna International Film Festival 2011. Photo: Manfred Werner / Wikimedia Commons

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Renowned singer, actor, producer, and legendary civil rights trailblazer, Harry Belafonte has died at the age of 96.

His publicist confirmed that the beloved icon died of congestive heart failure at his home in New York.

In addition to his children Adrienne Belafonte Biesemeyer, Shari Belafonte, Gina Belafonte, David Belafonte and two stepchildren Sarah Frank and Lindsey Frank, Belafonte leaves behind eight grandchildren: Rachel Blue Biesemeyer, Brian Biesemeyer, Maria Belafonte McCray, Sarafina Belafonte, Amadeus Belafonte, Mateo Frank, Olive Scanga, and Zoe Frank.

Known globally for both for his artistic ingenuity and humanitarian ideals, Belafonte became an early, vocal supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, a confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and financial backer of countless historic political and social causes and events, including the anti-Apartheid Movement, equal rights for women, juvenile justice, climate change and the decolonization of Africa.

He was one of the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington and led a delegation of Hollywood luminaries including his best friend Sidney Poitier, as well as Paul Newman, Sammy Davis, Jr, Marlon Brando, Rita Moreno, Tony Curtis, James Baldwin, Burt Lancaster, Joanne Woodward, Diahann Carrol, Bob Dylan, Mahalia Jackson, Peter, Paul and Mary and Joan Baez, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis and Tony Curtis.

The following is from Belafonte’s bio on the HistoryMakers:

Born to immigrant parents in Harlem on March 1, 1927, Harry Belafonte spent much of his youth in his mother’s home country of Jamaica.

Though difficult, life in Jamaica was full of rich cultural experiences that influenced Belafonte’s art.

At the beginning of World War II, Belafonte returned to Harlem with his mother and brother. He had trouble integrating into the new environment and later dropped out of high school to join the U.S. Navy.

After Belafonte was honorably discharged, he went back to New York, where he worked odd jobs until two free tickets to the American Negro Theatre (A.N.T.) changed his life.

Belafonte auditioned for the A.N.T. and earned his first leading role in Juno and the Paycock.

In 1953, he made his film debut opposite Dorothy Dandridge in Bright Road. He won a Tony in 1954 for his performance in Almanac.

At the same time, Belafonte developed his singing talents, having parlayed a series of nightclub performances into a record contract.

His third album, Calypso, topped the charts for thirty-one consecutive weeks and was the first record to sell more than 1 million copies.

Belafonte also secured a television outlet with his hour-long special, Tonight with Belafonte, which won him an Emmy.

He became the first African American TV producer and his company, HarBel, went on to produce one Emmy nominee after another.

In the early 1950s, Belafonte developed a strong relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Belafonte worked tirelessly to mobilize artists in support of the civil rights movement.

In 1985, he again rallied the global artistic community to raise awareness of the famines, wars and droughts plaguing many African nations.

USA for Africa raised more than $60 million for this cause with “We Are the World” and Hands Across America.

A longtime anti-apartheid activist, Belafonte hosted former South African President Nelson Mandela on his triumphant visit to the United States.

Belafonte maintained his commitment to service as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.

“The lifelong commitment, courage, global leadership, and legacy of The Honorable Harry Belafonte will always be cherished and remembered by billions of people throughout the world,” said NNPA President and CEO, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. “Belafonte was a gifted, talented and transformative freedom fighter for all of humanity. The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) salutes the memory of Harry Belafonte and recommits to the struggle for freedom, justice and equality that Belafonte so boldly epitomized and embodied. “

A Little About Me: I'm the co-author of Blind Faith: The Miraculous Journey of Lula Hardaway and her son, Stevie Wonder (Simon & Schuster) and Michael Jackson: The Man Behind The Mask, An Insider's Account of the King of Pop (Select Books Publishing, Inc.) My work can often be found in the Washington Informer, Baltimore Times, Philadelphia Tribune, Pocono Record, the New York Post, and Black Press USA.

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