Harry Belafonte, the singer/actor who was also an integral figure in the civil rights movement, has died. He was 96.
Belafonte’s death was confirmed to The New York Times by his longtime spokesman Ken Sunshine. His cause of death was due to congestive heart failure.
Belafonte’s career broke out in the 1950s thanks to his 1956 album Calypso, which featured the classic songs “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.” Calypso was notably the first album to sell over one million copies. It also topped the Billboard album chart for a staggering 31 weeks.
Shortly after the success of Calypso, Belafonte starred in various films including 1959’s The World, the Flesh and the Devil and Odds Against Tomorrow. However, his focus would soon turn to the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement.
Belafonte was close with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his family and provided them with financial support due to Dr. King’s low income as a preacher. Belafonte also provided significant funding for the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Additionally, he would often bail activists out of jail.
The New York Times also noted, “[Belafonte] quietly maintained an insurance policy on Dr. King’s life, with his family as the beneficiary, and donated his own money to make sure the family was taken care of after Dr. King was assassinated in 1968.”
In addition to his work in the Civil Rights Movement, Belafonte was involved in many other human rights and social justice initiatives. Among them was his work with UNICEF, supporting HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention in Africa in the 2000s and raising funds for African famine relief in the 1980s. Belafonte was also a vocal figure in the Anti-Apartheid Movement.