RIP: Harry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte (born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr.), the singer, actor and activist died today from congestive heart failure.  Mr. Belafonte was 96.

After graduation from high school Mr. Belafonte served in the Navy.  Following his time in the service he got work as a janitor’s assistant. It was during this period that Harry Belafonte attended the American Negro Theater and decided he wanted to be a performer.  It was also when he developed a friendship with Sidney Poitier.

Harry Belafonte began singing in nightclubs to help pay for his acting classes.  Along the way he performed with Charlie Parker and Miles Davis before getting a record contract.

Harry Belafonte began taking acting classes at The Dramatic Workshop of the New School.  There he studied along with future stars such as Marlon Brando, Sidney Poitier, Tony Curtis and Walter Mathhau.

In 1954, Harry Belafonte received a Tony Award for his part in the Broadway revue John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.  In 1956, Mr. Belafonte’s album Calypso became the first to sell one million copies in a year.  Harry Belafonte would go on to released 49 albums.

In 1953, Harry Belafonte appeared in the feature film Bright Road.  The following year he appeared in his breakout role in Carmen Jones.  For the rest of his career, Mr. Belafonte would perform on stage, recording or performing live and acting in feature films or on television.

Some of Harry Belafonte’s feature film performances include: Bright Road; Carmen Jones; Island in the Sun; The World, The Flesh and the Devil; Odds Against Tomorrow; Buck and the Preacher and Uptown Saturday Night.

Some of Harry Belafonte’s television appearances include:  Front Row Center; The Ed Sullivan Show (10 episodes); The Steve Allen Show; Tonight With Belafonte; The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour; The Tonight Show; The Flip Wilson Show; The Muppet Show; Grambling’s White Tiger and An Evening with Harry Belafonte and Friends.

Throughout his life, Harry Belafonte was an humanitarian activist.  He supported Civil Rights causes. Harry Belafonte became a friend and confidant to Martin Luther King, Jr.  Harry Belafonte helped to bring together artists to perform on We Are The World, the Grammy Award-winning song used to raise funds for Africa. He served as an UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for over 35 years, the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues, the cultural advisor to the Peace Corps

Harry Belafonte won three Grammy Awards, an Emmy Award (1960 for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series for “Tonight with Belafonte”), a Tony Award (1954 for Best Featured Actor in a Musical), a Kennedy Centers Honors Award (1989 for lifetime contributions to the performing arts); a National Medal of Arts Award (1994, highest honor given to artists and patrons of the arts by the United States government),  the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (2014, by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) for an individual’s “outstanding contributions to humanitarian causes”),  and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2022 as an Early Influencer).

Harry Belafonte’s talent was unsurpassed and may only be matched by his dedication to humanitarian efforts.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Harry Belafonte’s family, friends and fans.