Singer, actor and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, who broke racial barriers in the United States in the 1950s, died on April 25 at the age of 96 at his home in New York, his representative Ken Sunshine reported.
Born in the New York neighborhood of Harlem in 1927 with Jamaican descent, Belafonte rose to fame in 1956 with the successful album of Caribbean music ‘Calypso’which popularized songs like ‘Day-O’ and ‘Jamaica Farewell.’
He also had some forays into the world of cinema, with films like ‘Carmen Jones’, at a time when racial segregation was still entrenched in the United States and African-Americans had minority roles on the big screen.
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As a result of his great popularity and ability to break racial barriers in the artistic world, Belafonte’s career has been compared to that of artists of the stature of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald or his contemporary Sidney Poitier.
In 1968, the British singer Petula Clark, who was then at the height of her popularity, invited Belafonte to a special program on NBC television and the two sang a duet during which Clark affectionately touched the hand of her colleague.
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The sponsor of that show, the company Plymouth Motors, tried to censor that moment because it could offend the audience in the southern United States, but Clark, who had the rights to the program, refused to do so. It is believed that this was the first time that two people of different skin colors made discreet physical contact in front of the cameras..
Belafonte, who was personally involved in and financed the civil rights movement, was a personal friend of the Reverend Martin Luther King, and participated in the historic 1963 March on Washington, the one with the famous ‘I have a dream’ speech.
He also gained support for the cause of famous Hollywood stars such as Paul Newman and Marlon Brando, and was appointed by United States President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) as cultural adviser to the newly created Peace Corps.
He was always involved in politics in one way or another and came to describe US President George W. Bush (2001-2009) as “the greatest of terrorists” for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.