Activist, actor and singer Harry Belafonte is being mourned by friends, peers and admirers.
Former President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) were among those paying tribute to Belafonte, who dedicated his life to the civil rights movement, South Africa’s anti-apartheid campaign and social justice around the world.
Belafonte, who died of congestive heart failure Tuesday at 96, paved the way for generations of Black entertainers. He sold millions of albums as the “Calypso King,” and reportedly used his earnings to help fund the 1960s civil rights movement.
“Thank you for your music, your artistry, your activism, your fight for civil rights and justice — especially risking your life back in the day to get money to the movement,” Winfrey told ET in a statement Tuesday. “Your being here on earth has Blessed us.”
Belafonte won an Emmy Award for his series “Tonight with Belafonte” and a Tony Award for “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.” He starred in classic films, including “Uptown Saturday Night” and “Carmen Jones.”
Show business, however, was his second passion.
“Harry Belafonte was not only a great entertainer, but he was a courageous leader in the fight against racism and worker oppression,” Sanders tweeted Tuesday. “Jane and I were privileged to consider him a friend and will miss him very much.”
Harry Belafonte was a barrier-breaking legend who used his platform to lift others up. He lived a good life – transforming the arts while also standing up for civil rights. And he did it all with his signature smile and style. Michelle and I send our love to his wife, kids, and… pic.twitter.com/g77XCr9U5b
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 25, 2023
Belafonte broke ground as an entertainer with his 1956 album “Calypso,” which became the first LP by a solo artist to sell 1 million copies. His 1960 Emmy Award win made him the first Black person to take that stage. He also won two Grammys.
“Harry Belafonte was a barrier-breaking legend who used his platform to lift others up,” Obama tweeted Tuesday. “He lived a good life — transforming the arts while also standing up for civil rights. And he did it all with his signature smile and style.”
Belafonte spoke alongside Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington. When he became the first Black “Tonight Show” host for a brief spell in 1968, he used that platform to speak about civil rights and systemic racism to millions of viewers.
As a head of the Artists and Athletes Against Apartheid group in 1985, Belafonte called South Africa’s systemic prejudice an “unjust war.”
In 2006, the multiplatinum-selling singer called then-President George W. Bush “the greatest terrorist in the world.” In 2017, he said Americans have “the responsibility to make sure that Trump’s philosophy and his view of life and fellow beings does not endure.”
Harry Belafonte was not only a great entertainer, but he was a courageous leader in the fight against racism and worker oppression. Jane and I were privileged to consider him a friend and will miss him very much. pic.twitter.com/TO2xrz0GJF
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 25, 2023
“He was more than a singer, more than an actor and more than a man,” rapper Ice Cube tweeted.. “Harry Belafonte will be missed.”
Belafonte — who is survived by his wife Pamela, four children and eight grandchildren — also was being remembered as an activist hero and pioneering entertainer by the likes of Cornel West, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Wendell Pierce and more.
When I was a child, #HarryBelafonte showed up for my family in very compassionate ways.
In fact, he paid for the babysitter for me and my siblings.
Here he is mourning with my mother at the funeral service for my father at Morehouse College.
I won’t forget…Rest well, sir. pic.twitter.com/31OC1Ajc0V
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) April 25, 2023
I am deeply sad at the loss of my very dear brother - the great Harry Belafonte! His artistic genius, moral courage & loving soul shall live forever! God bless his precious family! pic.twitter.com/Tao5h6FMLh
— Cornel West (@CornelWest) April 25, 2023
Harry Belafonte epitomized what the role of an artist should be. The voice that brings together the community to engage each other in the exercise of self determination, the declaration of that society’s values, and in doing that inspire the society to action. A man of conviction pic.twitter.com/sz0mdjr2TI
— Wendell Pierce (@WendellPierce) April 25, 2023
May Harry Belafonte, the lionhearted civil rights hero, rest in peace. He inspired generations around the whole world in the struggle for non-violent resistance justice and change. We need his example now more than ever. pic.twitter.com/oBTBBvx3ra
— Christiane Amanpour (@amanpour) April 25, 2023
Harry Belafonte was a standard bearer, in the tradition of Robeson, for generational artistry and deeply informed & committed social & political engagement. Maybe the last of a great tribe. As smart as he was knockdown handsome. He met the moment thruout his life. What a man. RIP pic.twitter.com/uk5y1DjA1p
— Jeffrey Wright 🥜 (@jfreewright) April 25, 2023
“I was an activist who became an artist, I was not an artist who became an activist.” - Harry Belafonte
Rest In Peace 🕊 pic.twitter.com/WUTTNi0GtW
— Nina Turner (@ninaturner) April 25, 2023