Singer, actor, producer and activist Harry Belafonte, who spawned a calypso craze in the U.S. with his music and blazed new trails for African-American performers, has died of congestive heart failure at his Manhattan home, reports ‘Variety’. He was 96.
An award-winning Broadway performer and a versatile recording and concert star of the 1950s, notes ‘Variety’, the lithe, handsome Harold George Belafonte, who grew up in New York and Jamaica, became one of the first black leading men in Hollywood. He later branched into production work on theatrical films and telepics.
He’ll be remembered forever for his ageless ‘Banana Boat Song (Day-O)’, which Tim Burton employed to bright effect in his 1988 comedy ‘Beetlejuice’, reports ‘Variety’. And Belafonte also provided early employment to a future folk icon: His 1962 album ‘Midnight Special’ featured harmonica work by Bob Dylan.
Among the most honoured artistes of his era, Belafonte won two Grammys (and the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000), a Tony and an Emmy (he was the first Black performer to get one).
As his career stretched into the new millennium, his commitment to social causes never took a back seat to his professional work.
An intimate of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, he was an important voice in the civil rights movement that swept 1960s America, and he later embarked on charitable activities on behalf of underdeveloped African nations. He was also an outspoken opponent of South Africa’s apartheid policies, adds ‘Variety’.
Closely associated with King, Belafonte provided financial support to the civil rights leader and his family, and also funded the Freedom Riders and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. He was a key figure in the organisation of the historic March on Washington of August 1963.
The racial tumult of the 1960s, says ‘Variety’, hit close to home: In 1968 Belafonte became the centre of a furore when he appeared as a guest star on an NBC special hosted by British pop singer Petula Clark.
During a performance of an anti-war ballad, Clark clutched Belafonte’s arm. Doyle Lott, VP for sponsor Chrysler-Plymouth, was present at the taping and demanded the number be excised, saying the “interracial touching” might offend Southern viewers. But Clark, who owned the show, put her foot down and the show aired as recorded; Lott was fired by the automaker.