Barbados-born musician and civil rights icon leaves behind a legacy of social activism and boundary-breaking entertainment.
The Early Years
Harry Belafonte was born in Harlem in 1927 to a mother from Jamaica and a father from Martinique. From an early age, Belafonte was drawn to the performing arts, and after a stint in the Navy during World War II, he began studying theater at the New School for Social Research in New York City. It was during this time that he began performing in nightclubs and building a following as a talented singer and performer.
Breaking Down Barriers
Belafonte’s rise to fame in the 1950s was marked by a string of hit songs, including the iconic “Banana Boat Song.” But Belafonte was not content to merely entertain his audiences; he was determined to use his platform to effect social change. He became a key ally to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists, using his celebrity to raise awareness and money for the cause. He was also a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and a supporter of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
A Lasting Legacy
Belafonte’s impact on the entertainment industry and the world of social justice cannot be overstated. He broke down barriers for black performers, becoming the first African American to win an Emmy and Grammy award. He also received the Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts, among numerous other accolades. But perhaps his greatest legacy is the lasting impact he had on the fight for civil rights and social justice. Belafonte passed away on April 25, 2023, at the age of 96, leaving behind a world forever changed by his indelible mark on history.