Harry Belafonte, Legendary Musician, Actor, and Activist, Dies at 96
Harry Belafonte was an actor, a musician, and a force for good in our world. Unfortunately, he died on April 24, 2023. The cause of death, according to his spokesman, was congestive heart failure.
Harry Belafonte is perhaps known best for his track “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).” That being said, Belafonte was a huge star in his day. Not only that but he was involved in some of the most integral parts of the civil rights movement. He was pa part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, as well as the Alabama march from Selma and Montgomery. Later on, he would help organize collaborations with other musicians like “We Are The World.”
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Belafonte also had a successful career in Hollywood. He starred in Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones in 1954, and in 1957 he starred in Island in the Sun, a drama controversial in its day for its depiction of interracial romance. Belafonte later appeared in two very popular hits of the 1970s: The Western Buck and the Preacher, and the buddy comedy Uptown Saturday Night.
Belafonte's mother gave him some striking advice as a child, and it seems that it really stuck with him.
She was tenacious about her dignity not being crushed. And one day she said to me — she was talking about coming back from the day when she couldn’t find work — fighting back tears, she said, ‘Don’t ever let injustice go by unchallenged.’ And that really became a deep part of my life’s DNA. A lot of people say to me, ‘When as an artist did you decide to become an activist?’ I say to them, ‘I was long an activist before I became an artist.’
He also spoke with NPR about one of his greatest successes back in 2011.
“When I sing the ‘Banana Boat Song,’ the song is a work song. It’s about men who sweat all day long, and they are underpaid, and they’re begging the tallyman to come and give them an honest count — counting the bananas that I’ve picked, so I can be paid. And sometimes, when they couldn’t get money, they’ll give them a drink of rum. There’s a lyric in the song that says, ‘Work all night on a drink of rum.’ People sing and delight and dance and love it, but they don’t really understand unless they study the song that they’re singing a work song that’s a song of rebellion.”
Harry Belafonte was the complete package. A great actor, a great musician, and a great person who left an incredible legacy in the worlds of art and culture. He will be missed.