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Harry Belafonte, barrier-smashing entertainer and activist, dies at 96 Lalrp

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Harry Belafonte, the singer whose dynamic a cappella shout of “Day-O!” from “The Banana Boat Music” and different music from world people traditions propelled him to worldwide stardom, and who used his leisure fortune to assist bankroll the civil rights motion at dwelling and human rights causes worldwide, died April 25 at his dwelling in Manhattan. He was 96.

The trigger was congestive coronary heart failure, stated his spokesman Ken Sunshine.

Mr. Belafonte was born to Jamaican immigrants, grew up in poverty in Melancholy-era Harlem and have become a significant Black crossover success in fashionable music. He went on to smash a sequence of obstacles throughout 5 many years as a film, TV and stage star. His inventive and humanitarian work incessantly overlapped, reflecting his perception that “the position of artwork isn’t simply to point out life as it’s however to point out life accurately.”

A confidant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Belafonte spent years as a liaison between the civil rights motion and the leisure capitals of Hollywood and New York Metropolis. He additionally used his clout to advertise the anti-apartheid battle in South Africa and famine reduction by way of efforts such because the “We Are the World” recording and concert events in 1985.

Mr. Belafonte as soon as stated he spent his life “in a continuing state of rebel.” He sharply rebuked American presidents — Democrats and Republicans — for not doing sufficient to finish squalor in america or finish conflicts overseas. He criticized George W. Bush’s White Home over the 2003 invasion of Iraq and created a furor when he likened Colin Powell, then secretary of state, to a “home slave.”

He additionally was essential of the nation’s first African American president, noting that “for all of his smoothness and mind, Barack Obama appears to lack a basic empathy with the dispossessed, be they White or Black.” Offering gas to his detractors, Mr. Belafonte related to oppressive left-wing leaders akin to Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

“I wasn’t an artist who’d turn out to be an activist,” Mr. Belafonte preferred to say. “I used to be an activist who’d turn out to be an artist.”

Virile and sinewy, with a rakish smile and husky voice, Mr. Belafonte had burst to fame within the Fifties with a daring sensuality that flouted sexual taboos in an period of segregation. In live performance and on TV, he was introduced to audiences as a snake-hipped charmer, sporting coyly unbuttoned shirts that clung to the contours of his physique.

A 12 months after the movie trade’s Manufacturing Code lifted its ban on exhibiting interracial sexual relationships in films, Mr. Belafonte performed the love curiosity of White actress Joan Fontaine in “Island within the Solar” (1957). In that potboiler, a movie he later disavowed as too tame, he grew to become the primary Black matinee idol for mainstream audiences.

He was the primary Black man to win a Tony Award on Broadway, for his interpretation of American and Caribbean people music within the 1953 revue “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.” Six years later, he was the primary African American producer to obtain an Emmy Award, for “Tonight With Belafonte,” a CBS particular that introduced a historical past of Black American life by way of music.

Foremost, he was a recording star. His 1956 album “Calypso” bought greater than 1 million copies — making him a short rival to Elvis Presley on the pop music chart and producing worldwide curiosity in Caribbean-flavored music.

“There had by no means earlier than been any singer that fashionable with White middle-class audiences in addition to Black audiences,” the cultural critic and scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. stated in an interview. “In that sense, he was an agent of change, the musical voice of civil rights.”

Utilizing music to espouse common brotherhood, Mr. Belafonte inspired audiences to sing alongside to calypso, protest and chain-gang songs, the ballad “Danny Boy” and the Hebrew anthem “Hava Nagila.”

His voice, whereas classically untrained, was deeply affecting and able to nice vary. A Time journal critic famous that it “can turn out to be gutty as a trumpet, musky with melancholy, or excessive and tremulous as a flute. It might tackle the excessive, clipped inflection of the West Indies, the open-throated drawl of the bayou nation, the softly rounded burr of the Scotch borderland.”

In a testomony to his drawing energy, Mr. Belafonte was tapped in 1968 as the primary Black fill-in host for Johnny Carson on NBC’s “The Tonight Present,” the nation’s highest-rated late-night discuss present. Mr. Belafonte used the platform not solely to entertain but additionally to debate civil rights, the Vietnam Conflict and hunger in Appalachia with friends akin to King and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy.

Mr. Belafonte met King in 1956 when the then-obscure preacher referred to as and invited the entertainer to listen to him communicate at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. Mr. Belafonte, who was two years older than King, stated he was “rocked” by the sermon and thereafter spoke of King as a transformative determine in his life.

“I wasn’t nonviolent by nature — or if I used to be, rising up on Harlem’s streets had knocked it out of me — so for a while, I might view nonviolence extra as a shrewd organizing tactic than the rest,” he wrote in his 2011 memoir, “My Music,” co-authored with Michael Shnayerson.

“As I obtained to know Martin higher, and noticed nonviolence put to the take a look at, I might come to understand its non secular and emotional worth,” he added. “I’d discover I needed to stay by these values myself, each to assist the motion and to scrub away my private anger.”

As one in all King’s main benefactors, Mr. Belafonte used his friendships with Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Lena Horne and Henry Fonda to lift greater than $100,000 to fund the Freedom Rides in 1964 that challenged segregation on interstate transportation.

He additionally introduced Brando, Charlton Heston, Paul Newman and Tony Bennett to the March on Washington the place King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 — a essential present of White help that made King’s deal with all of the extra common in its attraction.

As one of many highest-paid entertainers in present enterprise, Mr. Belafonte raised giant quantities of cash quick to bail out civil rights leaders and rank-and-file protesters from Southern jails. Through the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, his 23-room mansion on Manhattan’s West Finish Avenue was utilized by motion leaders and Justice Division officers as a personal place to air grievances with each other. It additionally was the place older and youthful members of the motion, in addition to its nonviolent and militant wings, brokered truces.

“At pivotal moments, he was some of the essential supporters of the civil rights motion,” stated Taylor Department, a Pulitzer Prize-winning civil rights historian. “Harry was a powerful drive for preserving individuals on an excellent keel.”

After King’s assassination in 1968, Mr. Belafonte grew to become a roving humanitarian with out portfolio. He helped begin TransAfrica, a lobbying group that pressed for financial sanctions towards South Africa’s apartheid regime. He lobbied for the discharge of Nelson Mandela after which helped coordinate the longer term South African president’s first go to to america after his liberation in 1990.

A driving drive behind “We Are the World,” Mr. Belafonte gave the musical highlight to performers akin to Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and relegated himself to the all-star refrain. The mission raised tens of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} for medical and meals provides, and Mr. Belafonte participated within the arduous mission to ship these objects to reduction staff in Sudan and Ethi­o­pia.

After entertainer Danny Kaye’s demise in 1987, Mr. Belafonte grew to become the second American to be awarded the title “goodwill ambassador” for UNICEF, the United Nations Youngsters’s Fund. He used the place to unite artists and intellectuals in Africa to concentrate on issues akin to starvation, polio and malaria.

Harold George Belanfanti Jr. was born in Manhattan on March 1, 1927. His father, whom Harry later recalled as hard-drinking, abusive and philandering, was typically away working as a prepare dinner on “banana boats” between New York and Caribbean ports of name.

His mom, the previous Melvine Love, was left to look after Harry and a youthful son, Dennis. She overstayed her visa and adjusted her surname, ultimately to Belafonte, to evade immigration authorities. She additionally made makes an attempt to go off herself and her youngsters as Spanish or French as they moved from barrio to barrio, residing what Mr. Belafonte would name an “underground life.”

His mom, who periodically discovered work as a prepare dinner, tried to take her son alongside on jobs to eat leftovers. Poverty “outlined” him, he wrote in his memoir.

A self-described “indignant misfit,” he stated he in all probability had undiagnosed dyslexia. He stop formal schooling in ninth grade, spending his days working with gangs. He additionally went to the flicks.

Watching the World Conflict II propaganda movie “Sahara” (1943), Mr. Belafonte was awestruck by the scene through which Rex Ingram, a Black actor taking part in a Sudanese soldier, suffocates a Nazi officer by shoving his face into the North African sand. The “scene of revenge was galvanizing,” he wrote. “I’d by no means seen a movie that confirmed a black character so heroic.”

A day after his seventeenth birthday, he enlisted within the Navy and was quickly disabused of romantic notions of army fellowship. Minor infractions landed him for 2 weeks on the Naval Jail in Portsmouth, Va., the place he noticed German POWs receiving higher therapy. “The injustice of this sickened me,” he wrote, including that the expertise “radicalized” him politically.

After his 18-month Navy hitch, he discovered work as a janitor in a Harlem house constructing, the place a grateful tenant gave him tickets to the American Negro Theatre. He had by no means earlier than seen a play. The actors, he wrote, have been “so poised and assured, they radiated an influence that felt non secular to me.”

He started volunteering on the theater, slowly incomes small elements and befriending one other budding performer, Sidney Poitier, who shared his impoverished, West Indian background. With few theatrical prospects as a Black actor, Mr. Belafonte spent a lot of his time placing on agitprop performs in union halls.

Sidney Poitier, first Black man to win Oscar for finest actor, dies at 94

He had an unmemorable however profitable stint as a pop crooner in 1949 and 1950, incomes cash he desperately wanted to help his rising household. He stop after an engagement in Miami, the place, he wrote, White ladies winked at him from the entrance row. “So long as I used to be onstage, crooning love songs, I had a sure energy over them,” he wrote. “However when the lights got here up, I used to be simply one other coloured man hotfooting it again to Coloured City — or else.”

Within the meantime, he discovered a mentor within the African American entertainer Paul Robeson, a number one activist for civil and union rights who was hounded by federal authorities for his alleged socialist sympathies. Urged by Robeson, Mr. Belafonte started utilizing people songs to decry racism, poverty and different social ills.

Mr. Belafonte surged to fame with “Calypso,” which refashioned Caribbean island melodies for American listeners. The album included lots of the songs with which he would without end be recognized: “The Banana Boat Music,” the ballad “Jamaica Farewell,” “Come Back Liza” and “Man Smart (Woman Smarter).”

His stay recording “Belafonte at Carnegie Hall” (1959), which highlighted people music from across the globe, was a business and inventive triumph that stayed on the Billboard High 10 chart for greater than three years.

Mr. Belafonte gained Grammy Awards for his people recordings “Swing Dat Hammer” (1960), “At House and Overseas” (1961) and “An Night With Belafonte/Makeba” (1965), the final starring his protege, the South African singer Miriam Makeba. His 1962 album “The Midnight Special” supplied a profession increase to a younger harmonica participant, Bob Dylan, then making one in all his first recordings.

“He may play to a packed home at Carnegie Corridor one evening after which the following day he may seem at a garment heart union rally,” Dylan wrote in a memoir, “Chronicles: Quantity One.” “To Harry, it didn’t make any distinction. Folks have been individuals. He had beliefs and made you are feeling you’re a part of the human race. There by no means was a performer who crossed so many strains as Harry.”

“,” he added, “he by no means took the straightforward path, although he may have. ”

For a lot of Hollywood’s historical past, Blacks have been introduced onscreen, if in any respect, in demeaning stereotyped roles or in remoted song-and-dance segments that may very well be scissored by theater homeowners within the South.

As Poitier started his Hollywood rise within the Fifties taking part in males of refinement {and professional} aspiration, Mr. Belafonte launched a movie legacy that was far completely different.

He made his movie debut in “Bright Road” (1953), within the position of a faculty principal reverse a instructor performed by Dorothy Dandridge. They have been reunited in “Carmen Jones” (1954), with Mr. Belafonte as a GI who falls for a temptress. The studio had opera singers — LaVern Hutcherson and Marilyn Horne, respectively — dub their voices.

There was a stiffness to Mr. Belafonte’s early, untrained film performances, and he admitted he was self-conscious in matinee idol roles.

Mr. Belafonte, whose second and third marriages have been to White ladies, additionally was unhappy making movies as a result of he felt film studios didn’t go far sufficient in presenting interracial love in a sensible means.

He famous that whereas the warmth could have been palpable onscreen with Fontaine — and with Inger Stevens within the doomsday drama “The World, the Flesh and the Satan” (1959) — audiences noticed no kissing. That call by studio chiefs outraged Mr. Belafonte.

After the business failure of “Odds Against Tomorrow” (1959), a taut financial institution heist and race-relations drama he starred in and co-produced, he self-exiled himself from films for greater than a decade.

In his memoir, Mr. Belafonte stated he turned down roles that appeared “neutered” of intercourse and rage — the qualities that for him marked an inside life. They included Poitier’s Oscar-winning efficiency as a drifter within the Southwest who helps a gaggle of German nuns in “Lilies of the Discipline” (1963), and Poitier’s flip as a instructor who involves assistance from unruly college students in “To Sir, With Love” (1967).

“To Hollywood, Sidney was the one black actor with whom white America felt comfy, due to that dignity he radiated, that sexless gallantry,” Mr. Belafonte wrote in his autobiography. “It actually burned me that within the midst of the civil rights motion, with Jim Crow legal guidelines falling away, the one black who bought film tickets was one who posed no risk in any way to the masculinity of white moviegoers.”

In a sporadic movie profession, Mr. Belafonte’s most interesting efficiency was extensively considered the ruthless gangland chief in Robert Altman’s drama “Kansas City” (1996). The efficiency, which he primarily based on the rougher edges of his upbringing, gained the New York Movie Critics Circle Award for finest supporting actor.

The scope of Mr. Belafonte’s work earned him the Nationwide Medal of Arts in 1994, a Kennedy Heart Honor in 1989 and awards for lifetime achievement from the NAACP and the Grammys. In 2014, he acquired the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Movement Image Arts and Sciences.

Gates, the scholar, referred to as him “a hyperlink and a remnant of the fiery dedication of the previous radical left,” including that Mr. Belafonte “sees himself as a lone voice” championing causes left behind by the Black upwardly cell institution.

His uncompromising method strained or ended once-close friendships with Poitier and Invoice Cosby. He additionally drifted away from King’s relations, criticizing them for being extra keen on taking advantage of the civil rights chief’s legacy than in utilizing his stature to advance causes akin to poverty and labor rights.

His first marriage, to Marguerite Byrd, resulted in divorce in 1957. That very same 12 months, he wed Julie Robinson, who was of Russian-Jewish ancestry and had been a dancer within the in any other case all-Black Katherine Dunham Dance Firm. After they divorced in 2008, Mr. Belafonte married Pamela Frank, a photographer who had been concerned in his activist tasks.

Along with his spouse, survivors embody two daughters from his first marriage, actress and mannequin Shari Belafonte and Adrienne Biesemeyer; two youngsters from his second marriage, actress Gina Belafonte and David Belafonte; two stepchildren, Sarah Frank and Lindsey Frank; and eight grandchildren.

Having fought his means up from poverty, Mr. Belafonte was decided to depart his mark — his voice — typically at private {and professional} price. “I’m a pushed man,” he as soon as informed the London Guardian. “Pushed by ego, pushed by conscience, all the time on the lookout for one other tune.”