Legendary Actor and Singer, Rest In Peace

Harry Belafonte is an American singer and actor probably best known for “The Banana Boat Song” which is more commonly known as “Day-O.” While his career was impressive and filled with awards, he was also known for his activism.

Now, the sad news comes that Belafonte has died. A statement from his representative, Paula Witt, explains that Belafonte died of congestive heart failure earlier today, Tuesday April 25, 2023. He was 96 years old.

Belafonte was born in Harlem in 1927. He was biracial and so were his parents who were both originally from Jamaica. Belafonte grew up traveling back and forth from New York to Jamaica, and his Jamaican roots influenced his music.

The song commonly known as “Day-O” was his first big hit, but it was originally a Jamaican song sung by laborers. In 2011, he explained to NPR what “The Banana Boat Song” was really about. He said, “And when I sing the ‘Banana Boat Song,’ the song is a work song. It’s about men who sweat all day long, and they are underpaid, and they’re begging the tallyman to come and give them an honest count – counting the bananas that I’ve picked, so I can be paid.” He continued, “People sing and delight and dance and love it, (but) they don’t really understand unless they study the song that they’re singing, a work song, that’s a song of rebellion.”

While Belafonte may be best known as a singer, he considered himself a better actor than a singer. In his memoir titled “My Song,” Belafonte claimed, “ I could make a case that I was the greatest actor in the world: I’d convinced everyone I could sing.” 

Even more than a singer or actor, Belafonte considered himself an activist. He shared in his memoir, “I wasn’t an artist who became an activist. I was an activist who became an artist.” He explained, “Ever since my mother has drummed it into me, I’d felt the need to fight injustice wherever I saw it, in whatever way I could.”

In 1960, Belafonte became the very first Black man to win an Emmy when he won for his TV special “Tonight with Belafonte.” He was also the very first Black man to win a Tony when he won for his role in “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac” in 1954. He also won three Grammy Awards plus a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He was awarded a Humanitarian Oscar and he has an early influence award from The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Belafonte is survived by his wife, Pamela Frank, as well as their four children, two step-children and eight grandchildren.

Rest in peace.