Harry Belafonte, Calypso Icon And Activist, Is Dead At 96

Harry Belafonte is dead at 96 years old, The New York Times reports. He died today (April 25) at his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan due to congestive heart failure, longtime spokesman Ken Sunshine told the publication.

Belafonte is perhaps best known for his recording of “Banana Boat (Day-O),” a traditional Jamaican folk song. The song appeared on Belafonte’s iconic 1956 album Calypso, which is recognized as the first album by a single artist to sell 1 million copies. Belafonte is widely credited with popularizing calypso music internationally. Belafonte also had the idea for the iconic 1985 charity single “We Are The World.”

His musical success led to a trailblazing career in movies: The New York Times called him “the first Black actor to achieve major success in Hollywood as a leading man.” He was also a civil rights leader and friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In a 2021 interview, Belafonte spoke about the current generation of educators teaching about Black history, saying, “As a singer and an activist, I found this to be true: You can cage the singer, but you cannot cage the song. This is a very potent philosophy. The impact of art is irreversible, and I think it’s the same when young people learn their true history. You can ban the lesson plan — and across the country, we see that they are doing just that — but you can’t stop the impact of that knowledge from taking root in the minds of young people. Those who are teaching Black history in ways that reach our young people and the masses are doing critically important work.”