Human Interest

Singer, civil rights campaigner Harry Belafonte dead at 96

Washington, Apr 25 (EFE).- Singer and actor Harry Belafonte, who as the highest-paid black entertainer in the United States in the 1950s put his public profile and wealth at the service of the civil rights movement, died Tuesday at his home in New York, his representative said. He was 96.

Belafonte died of congestive heart failure, Ken Sunshine said.

Born in Harlem in 1927 to a father from Martinique and a Jamaican mother, Belafonte studied acting after serving in the US Navy during World War II, but in the absence of good roles for African Americans, he turned to singing.

He got a recording contract and in 1953, Belafonte appeared on Broadway in the revue “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.”

His performance earned him a Tony Award and brought him to the attention of Hollywood producer and director Otto Preminger, who tapped Belafonte to star in “Carmen Jones,” an all-black film version of Bizet’s “Carmen.”

Belafonte’s 1956 album of Caribbean music, “Calypso,” which included the hits “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell,” spent the better part of a year on the top of the sales chart.

Despite his popularity, Belafonte often came up against the racism of the time.

During the taping of a 1968 special with Petula Clark, a representative of the sponsor, Chrysler-Plymouth, objected when the British singer touched Belafonte as they were singing a duet.

But the producer rejected the demand that the singers repeat the performance without the touch.

Belafonte reached out in the 1950s to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and would go on to become the civil rights leader’s steadfast friend and supporter.

The singer took part in the 1963 March on Washington, helped raised money for King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and provided financial assistance to his family after his assassination in 1968.

Belafonte enlisted Hollywood stars, Paul Newman and Marlon Brando among them, in advocating for civil rights and was named by President John F. Kennedy as cultural adviser to the Peace Corps.

He remained outspoken about public affairs, denouncing President George W. Bush in 2006 as “the greatest terrorist in the world” for his decision to invade Iraq. EFE


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