Democracy Now! is devastated to report the death of Harry Belafonte, the longtime civil rights activist who was an immensely popular singer and actor. He was 96 years old, and reportedly died from congestive heart failure.
The son of Jamaican immigrants, Belafonte grew up on the streets of Harlem and Jamaica. In the 1950s, he spearheaded the calypso craze and became the first artist in recording history with a million-selling album. He was also the first African-American musician to win an Emmy. Along with his rise to worldwide stardom, Belafonte became deeply involved in the civil rights movement. One of Dr. Martin Luther King’s closest confidants, he helped organize the March on Washington in 1963.
In the 2011 interview featured above, Belafonte joined us for the hour at the Sundance Film Festival to talk about his battle against racism, his mentor Paul Robeson, the power of music to push for political change, his close relationship with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the U.S. role in Haiti. His life was the focus of a documentary called Sing Your Song. “Going into the South of the United States, listening to the voices of rural black America, listening to the voices of those who sang out against the Ku Klux Klan and out against segregation, and women, who were the most oppressed of all, rising to the occasion to protest against their conditions, became the arena where my first songs were to emerge,” Belafonte said.
In the Democracy Now! show on Wednesday, April 26 we looked back at the remarkable and radical life of Harry Belafonte, and featured some of his interviews and songs.
Over the years, Belafonte appeared many times on Democracy Now!, including 20 years ago on February 15, 2003, when we spoke to him as he joined millions of people around the globe who rallied to say no to the Iraq War. As we broadcast live from massive protests in New York, Belafonte said:
“This is not the first time that we as a people have been misled by the leadership. We were misled by those who created the falseness the Bay of Tonkin, which falsely led us into a war with Vietnam, a war that we could not and did not win. We lied to the American people about Grenada and what was going on in that tiny island. We’ve lied to the American people about Nicaragua, El Salvador, Cuba and many places in the world. And we stand here today to let those people and others know that America is a vast and diverse country, and we are part of the greater truth of what makes our nation. Dr. King once said that if there is — if mankind does not put an end to war, war will put an end to mankind.”
In 2006 we spent the hour with Belafonte in our Firehouse studio to talk about why he had called President Bush “the world’s greatest terrorist,” racism and Hurricane Katrina, the civil rights movement, and wars of imperialism and resistance.
In December 2016, and Democracy Now! hosted a historic conversation between Noam Chomsky and Harry Belafonte as part of our 20th anniversary celebration. It marked the first time they appeared on stage together in conversation.