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Singer and activist Harry Belafonte dead at 96

by Editorial Team
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By Alex Balimwikungu & Agencies

Harry Belafonte, the singer and actor who smashed racial barriers in the US, has died at home in Manhattan, aged 96.

One of the most successful African-American pop stars in history, he scored hits with Island in the Sun, Mary’s Boy Child Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) and many others.

Belafonte died of congestive heart failure, said his spokesman Ken Sunshine.

He was far more than just the “Calypso King”. He was a passionate civil rights activist who struggled to end segregation and a close confidant of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

Belafonte was also the star of films that challenged racist boundaries and dated stereotypes; an entertainer blacklisted in the savage, suspicious frenzy of McCarthyism.

When the US music industry needed a legend to bring its super-egos together for 1985 charity single We Are The World, it was Belafonte who had the credibility and the respect to make it happen.

Yet he remained charming and self-deprecating to a fault, fond of observing that he was the world’s greatest actor “based on the fact I’ve convinced so many people I’m a singer”.

American talk show host Oprah Winfrey was among the first to pay tribute, remembering Belafonte as “a trailblazer and a hero to us all”.

“Thank you for your music, your artistry, your activism, your fight for civil rights and justice,” she continued. “Your being here on Earth has blessed us all.”

Singer and song writer John Legend, who counted Belafonte as a friend and mentor, wrote: “We have to thank God that we had Harry Belafonte for 96 years.”  

Legend added: “He used his platform in almost a subversive way, because he would sneak messages in there, revolutionary messages, when people thought he was just singing about good times.”

In Uganda, veteran singer Elly Wamala (RIP) spoke about the influence Belafonte’s music had on their youthful years and how it shaped their music career.

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