Harry Belafonte, activist and entertainer, dies at 96

NEW YORK — Harry Belafonte, the civil rights and entertainment giant who began as a groundbreaking actor and singer and became an activist, humanitarian and conscience of the world, has died. He was 96.

Belafonte died Tuesday of congestive heart failure at his New York home, his wife Pamela by his side, said publicist Ken Sunshine.

Born in Harlem to West Indian immigrants, he almost single-handedly ignited a craze for Caribbean music with hit records like “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.” His album “Calypso,” which included both those songs, reached the top of the Billboard album chart shortly after its release in 1956 and stayed there for 31 weeks. Coming just before the breakthrough of Elvis Presley, it was said to be the first album by a single artist to sell more than a million copies.

By 1954, Belafonte was in the movies, as well, having won a prized lead role in the film adaptation of “Carmen Jones,” the all-Black Broadway musical re-imagining of Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen.”

Despite his record sales and his Tony Award for a musical revue, Belafonte wasn’t allowed to sing in the movie — his songs were dubbed by the opera singer LeVern Hutcherson.

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