By Staff Reporters

The world mourns the loss of a genuine legend, Harry Belafonte, the versatile virtuoso and defender of human rights, who has transcended to the great beyond at the ripe age of 96.

Belafonte, who was honoured with the prestigious Grammy, Emmy, and Tony awards, passed away due to congestive heart failure at his home in New York on Tuesday, according to a representative for his family. The spokesperson also stated that Belafonte’s wife was by his side during his last moments.

With his chart-topping songs such as Day-O (The Banana Boat Song), Tony-award-winning theatrical prowess, and remarkable cinematic achievements, Belafonte was an unstoppable powerhouse. However, his impact goes beyond the realm of showbiz, as he devoted his existence to advocating for a plethora of noble causes.

In addition to his illustrious stint in Tinseltown, Belafonte was a fervent crusader, collaborating hand in hand with the legendary Martin Luther King Jr. in the epochal Civil Rights Movement that shook the 1950s and 1960s.

He strongly supported the civil rights movement for African-American and helped fund various initiatives. Not only that, but he was a fierce opponent of poverty, apartheid, and the devastating Aids epidemic in Africa. He even stood in solidarity with revolutionary leaders like Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Talk about a true rebel with a cause!

The King of Calypso

With a moniker as grand as “The King of Calypso”, this musical maestro was the driving force behind the global recognition of Caribbean tunes during the 1950s. In fact, he was the very first crooner, across all genres, to hit the million-record mark in a single year.

The musical masterpiece of his, Jump In The Line (Shake, Senora), recently made a triumphant comeback, spreading like wildfire on TikTok in 2020. And let’s not forget its appearance in the iconic 1988 film Beetlejuice. Similarly, his signature tune Day-O (Banana Boat) has also resurfaced, proving that good music never goes out of style.

A trailblazing artist of colour, he captivated audiences on the silver screen with his unforgettable performances in iconic films such as Carmen Jones, Island in the Sun, and Odds Against Tomorrow. Fast forward to 2022, and this legendary figure was bestowed with the ultimate accolade – induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Notably, he also made history as the oldest recipient of this prestigious honour.

In a stroke of perfect casting, Belafonte graced the silver screen with a poignant cameo in Spike Lee’s triumphant 2018 masterpiece BlacKkKlansman as a wise and seasoned statesman, he imparted invaluable knowledge to a new generation of passionate activists, shedding light on the dark corners of America’s history.

On Instagram, Lee paid homage to the legendary Harry Belafonte, offering his heartfelt sympathies and hoping for his cherished comrade to find eternal peace. Lee said the departure of esteemed icons is becoming all too common, making it crucial to celebrate and recognise the invaluable insights and accomplishments of senior citizens while they are still alive.

“May God Have My Dear Friend Harry Belafonte At A Peaceful Rest. We Are Losing Our Giants Left And Right. We Have To Celebrate Our Elders While They Are With Us,” wrote Lee.

Belafonte was born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr. He made his grand entrance into the world on March 1, 1927. But fate had other plans for the young lad, as he was whisked away to the tropical paradise of Jamaica at the tender age of five to live with his beloved grandmother. It wasn’t until the onset of World War II, when Harold was 13 years old, that he finally returned to his hometown.

After completing his studies in the bustling city of New York, he bravely enlisted in the Navy and spent nearly two years as a skilled munitions loader, before being granted a well-deserved honourable discharge.

Upon his arrival back in the bustling city of New York, he took on the role of a caretaker. It was during this time that fate intervened and bestowed upon him a theatre ticket as a token of appreciation for his handy repair work. Little did he know that this simple act of kindness would ignite a fiery passion within him for the world of theatre. From that moment on, he was hooked, and the stage became his new home.

Venturing forth, he pursued the art of acting under the tutelage of the Dramatic Workshop at the New School of Social Research. Among his fellow thespians were the likes of Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur, Rod Steiger, and Tony Curtis.

Sidney Poitier, a trailblazing black actor who snagged the coveted Oscar for best actor, forged a lasting bond with Belafonte. Belafonte’s multifaceted career in entertainment and politics opened doors to a plethora of influential figures, from the legendary Frank Sinatra to the iconic Eleanor Roosevelt and even Fidel Castro.

A true aficionado of jazz, he graced the stages of renowned clubs such as the Blue Note and the Vanguard, where he mesmerized audiences with his soulful melodies. On one unforgettable night, he was even accompanied by the legendary Charlie Parker and Max Roach, who provided the perfect backdrop for his musical prowess.

In 1954, Belafonte graced the Broadway stage for the first time and his performance in John Murray Anderson’s Almanac was nothing short of a masterpiece. So much so, that he was bestowed with the prestigious Tony Award for his leading role.

Half a decade down the road, he made history as the first African-American artist to clinch an Emmy Award for his electrifying television extravaganza, Tonight with Harry Belafonte. Handpicked by US President John F Kennedy, he dedicated a solid half-decade of his life to the noble cause of the Peace Corps. And as fate would have it, many moons later, he was bestowed with the honour of being a goodwill ambassador for the globally renowned UNICEF.

Despite becoming disillusioned with acting, he amassed several accolades throughout his time in the limelight, including the prestigious Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the motion picture academy, a National Medal of Arts, and a Grammy for his lifetime of outstanding achievements.

In his memoir, My Song, published in 2011, he fondly reminisced about the time when he clinched the New York Film Critics Award in 1996 for his portrayal of a gangster in Robert Altman’s Kansas City. It was a moment of immense pride and gratification for him, a career milestone that he cherished dearly.

Having taken the plunge thrice in holy matrimony, he was blessed with four children, out of which three pursuing acting careers.

The legacy of Belafonte lives on through his cherished family, including his beloved wife, the talented photographer Pamela Frank, his adoring children Adrienne Belafonte Biesemeyer, Shari Belafonte, Gina Belafonte, and David Belafonte, as well as his two stepchildren, Sarah Frank and Lindsey Frank. And let’s not forget the eight precious grandchildren.

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