Harry Belafonte's Life in Photos

Iconic singer Harry Belafonte died at age 96 on April 25, 2023. He was a trailblazer in music, movies and the fight for civil rights for over six decades. Look back at some of his most incredible achievements over the past near-century

01 of 20

Harry Belafonte's Childhood

Harry Belafonte
Archive Photos/Getty

Singer, actor, activist Harry Belafonte was born on March 1, 1927, in New York City. After his parents split, the star spent his early years in Kingston, Jamaica, with his brother and mother before she moved them back to New York in search of better job opportunities.

During his upbringing in Jamaica, Belafonte (born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr.) developed a love of music and eventually built a successful career in the U.S. as a folk singer. He paid homage to his Caribbean roots by incorporating calypso music into American culture and forged a decades-long career as an entertainer and advocate for civil rights.

02 of 20

Harry Belafonte's Debut Album

Harry Belafonte's album "Calypso"
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

In 1956, Belafonte released Harry Belafonte: Calypso — with songs "Day-O (Banana Boat Song)" and "Jamaica Farewell" — and became the first solo performer to sell a million copies. His influence earned him the title of King of Calypso, and he went on to take his musical talents to Broadway.

03 of 20

Harry Belafonte on Broadway

Harry Belafonte
Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty

Belafonte made his Broadway debut in the musical John Murray Anderson's Almanac, which earned him a Tony award for best featured actor in a musical. He was also Grammy-nominated 11 times and won twice, once for best performance for "Swing Dat Hammer" and once for best folk recording for "An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba."

04 of 20

Harry Belafonte's First Movie Role

Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

In 1954, the star broke into Hollywood with the musical film Carmen Jones opposite Dorothy Dandridge. The Otto Preminger directed film was nominated for two Oscars and is now preserved in the National Film Preservation Board for its cultural and historical significance.

05 of 20

Harry Belafonte in Island in the Sun

Harry Belafonte
Harry Belafonte. Mondadori via Getty

He played David Boyeur in the 1957 drama, Island in the Sun. The film adaptation of the book written by Alec Waugh (which also starred James Mason, Joan Fontaine, Joan Collins, Dorothy Dandridge and Michael Reenie), was controversial at the time for featuring an interracial romance between Belafonte and Fontaine's characters. Several cities banned the film after receiving threats from the Ku Klux Klan, according to CBS News.

06 of 20

Harry Belafonte Wins an Emmy

Harry Belafonte
Bettmann Archive/Getty

Belafonte won an Emmy for outstanding performance in a variety or musical program or series in 1960 for The Revlon Revue: Tonight With Belafonte on CBS. The win was a history-making moment, as Belafonte became the first Black person to win an Emmy.

07 of 20

Harry Belafonte's Family

Harry Belafonte, Adrienne Belafonte, David Belafonte and Julie Belafonte
Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty

Belafonte married actress Marguerite Byrd in 1948 and the two had daughters Adrienne and Shari, but they split before Shari was born.

He next married dancer Julie Robinson in 1957 and had daughter Gina and son David. (The actor, Julie and several of his children are seen here in a photo taken before the family boarded a plane in 1962.)

Belafonte now lives in N.Y.C. with his third wife, photographer Pamela Frank. The couple tied the knot in 2008.

Shari recently opened up to PEOPLE about her relationship with her dad, saying "He was not the warm and fuzzy father figure depicted in early TV shows. But then, who really was? ... Our relationship has gotten so much better in the last 20 years. There's a lot of icons out there, but Harry pretty much beats the band when it comes to people of color."

08 of 20

Harry Belafonte at the March on Washington

Harry Belafonte Sidney Poitier
Archive Photos/Getty

While growing his career in the arts, Belafonte became a fierce advocate for civil rights. Here, he joined Charlton Heston, Burt Lancaster and Sidney Poitier at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a large civil rights rally that took place in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963.

09 of 20

Harry Belafonte and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Harry Belafonte Jr. (left) shakes hands with American civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Hulton Archive/Getty

The star was a trusted supporter and partner to civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. He used his celebrity status to raise funds to support the fight for equal rights and became very close to the King family.

Coretta Scott King wrote of Belafonte in her autobiography My Life, My Love, My Legacy, "Whenever we got into trouble or when tragedy struck, Harry has always come to our aid, his generous heart wide open."

10 of 20

Harry Belafonte with Black Icons

Cicely Tyson
Ron Galella/getty images

Cicely Tyson, James Baldwin and Belafonte attended the To Be Young, Gifted And Black Gala on Jan. 2, 1969, at the Cherry Lane Theater in N.Y.C.

11 of 20

Harry Belafonte on the Nat King Cole Show

NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty

He also appeared on the Nat King Cole Show to support his friend Cole, who was the first Black man to host his own nationally televised variety program.

12 of 20

Harry Belafonte on The Muppet Show

Harry Belafonte on 'The Muppet Show'
David Dagley/Shutterstock

In 1978, the star was rubbing elbows with the likes of Miss Piggy on The Muppet Show.

13 of 20

Harry Belafonte at a Civil Rights Rally

Harry Belafonte
Bettmann Archive/Getty

Belafonte sang to a crowd of over 10,000 civil rights marchers as they gathered in Manhattan's garment center at a civil rights rally in N.Y.C.

14 of 20

Harry Belafonte at the United Nations

Harry Belafonte
Bettmann Archive/Getty

The star took the mic at a news conference at the United Nations headquarters to announce the formation of Artists and Athletes Against Apartheid, alongside actors Gregory Hines and Tony Randall and tennis star Arthur Ashe, in 1983.

15 of 20

Harry Belafonte on The Tonight Show

Harry Belafonte Johnny Carson
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Host Johnny Carson invited Belafonte onto The Tonight Show to share a laugh in 1988.

16 of 20

Harry Belafonte Wins a Kennedy Center Honor

Harry Belafonte
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The Kennedy Center honored the star — along with actresses Claudette Colbert and Mary Martin, the dancer Alexandra Danilova and the composer William Schuman — for his lifelong contributions to American culture at the 1989 ceremony at the White House.

17 of 20

Harry Belafonte's Involvement in Gay Civil Rights

Harry Belafonte
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In 2013, Belafonte was named Grand Marshal at the N.Y.C. Pride Parade and upheld his duties by waving the Pride flag during the celebration.

18 of 20

Harry Belafonte Recognized for His Humanitarian Impact

Harry Belafonte
Kevin Winter/Getty

Belafonte accepted the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2014, which is given to an actor whose humanitarian efforts have greatly influenced the entertainment industry.

19 of 20

Harry Belafonte with Wife Pamela Frank

Harry Belafonte and Pamela Frank
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Pamela Frank accompanied husband and honoree Belafonte at the 2016 Library Lions Gala in N.Y.C.

20 of 20

Harry Belafonte Given the Legion of Honour

Harry Belafonte
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In 2021, Rev. Al Sharpton celebrated Belafonte, who received the National Order of the Legion of Honour, the highest award bestowed by the French government, at a private residence in N.Y.C. The icon kept a low profile in the years following, though was celebrated with a star-studded 95th birthday party in New York City in 2022.

On April 25, 2023, news broke that the icon had died at home in New York with his wife by his side. He was 96 years old.

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