Speed Reads


Harry Belafonte, trailblazing singer and activist, dies at 96

Harry Belafonte, the trailblazing singer, actor, and activist, has died. He was 96. 

Belafonte's death was confirmed to The New York Times by his spokesperson, who said the cause was congestive heart failure. According to the outlet, he died Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. 

Belafonte, who was known for his Caribbean music, released his debut album in 1954. In 1956, his hit album Calypso topped the Billboard pop albums chart for a whopping 31 weeks, and according to Billboard, it was the first LP to sell one million copies. The album, which included songs like "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)," was added into the National Recording Registry in 2018. By the end of the 1950s, Belafonte became the "most highly paid Black performer in history," the Times notes. 

Outside of music, Belafonte had a career as an actor and starred in films like Island in the Sun and Carmen Jones. But he was also an activist, working with Martin Luther King Jr. and participating in the 1963 March on Washington. In fact, he considered himself an activist first and foremost. "I was an activist who became an artist," Belafonte told PBS in 2011

Belafonte won two Grammys, a Tony, and an Emmy during his career, becoming the first Black person to win the latter award. He also received the Oscars' honorary Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2014. In 2022, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the early influences category. "Drawing from several musical traditions, Harry Belafonte's lyrical baritone and emotive singing connected Americans to Black world culture," the organization said on its website. "Singer, actor, producer, activist, and ally, Belafonte used the arts as a mechanism to effect social change on a global scale." In 2018, Belafonte appeared in Spike Lee's movie BlacKkKlansman

In a statement, Rev. Al Sharpton mourned Belafonte as a "true mentor and friend."

"I cherished the time he would give me and others to both guide and correct us," Sharpton said. "He was a culture-changing entertainer, a history-changing activist, and an unmatchable intellectual. Rest in peace and power, Mr. B."