New York (AFP/APP): Harry Belafonte, the superstar entertainer who introduced a Caribbean flair to mainstream US music and became well known for his deep personal investment in civil rights, died on Tuesday in Manhattan, his publicist said. He was 96.
The barrier-breaking artist-activist died of congestive heart failure at his New York home, according to the publicist’s statement.
Born in Harlem to a Jamaican mother and a father from the French territory of Martinique, the calypso singer and actor spent part of his childhood in Jamaica before returning to New York — a binational upbringing that shaped his musical and political outlooks, and saw him campaign tirelessly for racial equality.
Belafonte’s calypso, the genre of Caribbean music that drew from West African and French influences, saw him skyrocket to fame in the midst of post-World War II prosperity and suburbanization.
His third album, entitled simply “Calypso” and released in 1956, became the first LP to sell more than one million copies in the United States.
The album featured what became Belafonte’s signature song, “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” — he scoffed at the idea it was simply feel-good dance music, calling the track a rebellious take on workers demanding fair wages.
Belafonte “used his platform in almost a subversive way because he would sneak messages in there, revolutionary messages,” crooner John Legend said Tuesday at a Time magazine event.
“When people just thought he was singing about good times and the islands, he was always infusing messages of protest and revolution in everything he did.”
Legend was one of many, from all walks of American life, to send tributes; singers, politicians and activists hailed Belafonte’s talent, advocacy and trailblazing contributions.
“Harry Belafonte was not only a great entertainer, but he was a courageous leader in the fight against racism and worker oppression,” progressive senator Bernie Sanders wrote.

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