Harry Belafonte: US singer, actor and activist dies aged 96

Harry Belafonte died at his New York home, with his wife Pamela by his side. ITV News Entertainment Correspondent Rishi Davda reports

Harry Belafonte, the civil rights and entertainment giant who began his career as a groundbreaking actor and singer, has died at the age of 96.

Belafonte, who also went on to become an activist and humanitarian, died of congestive heart failure at his New York home, his public relations firm, Sunshine Sachs Morgan & Lylis, said.

He was one of the first black performers to gain a wide following on film and to sell a million records as a singer.

Many people still know him for his signature hit Banana Boat Song (Day-O), and its call of "Day-O! Daaaaay-O".

In the 1960s, Belafonte, who was born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr, scaled back his performing career to live out his hero Paul Robeson's decree that artists are "gatekeepers of truth".

Belafonte participated in protest marches and benefit concerts, as well as helping to organise and raise support for them.

He worked closely with his friend and generational peer Dr Martin Luther King Jr, often intervening on his behalf with both politicians and fellow entertainers.

When King was assassinated, in 1968, Belafonte helped pick out the suit he was buried in, sat next to his widow, Coretta, at the funeral, and continued to support his family.

Belafonte risked his life and livelihood and set high standards for younger black celebrities, scolding Jay Z and Beyonce for failing to meet their "social responsibilities".

He also acted as a mentor for Usher, Common and Danny Glover, among others.

Since the 1950s, he was a major music artist, winning a Tony Award in 1954 for his role in John Murray Anderson's Almanac.

Some five years later he became the first black performer to win an Emmy for the TV special Tonight with Harry Belafonte.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr (centre) and Harry Belafonte (right) pictured at a press conference in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 30, 1965. Credit: AP

A number of US politicians sought out his opinions and support, including John F. Kennedy, who during the 1960 election visited Belafonte at his Manhattan home.

"I was quite taken by the fact that he [Kennedy] knew so little about the black community," Belafonte told NBC in 2013.

"He knew the headlines of the day, but he wasn't really anywhere nuanced or detailed on the depth of black anguish or what our struggle's really about."

Belafonte was married three times, most recently to photographer Pamela Frank, and leaves behind four children - three of whom have moved into acting - and eight grandchildren.

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