Harry Belafonte, actor, singer, civil rights activist, died in Manhattan on April 25. Mr. Belafonte, the son of immigrant parents from Jamaica, came into prominence in the 50’s using the calypso genre to enthrall audiences worldwide. His plaintive cry: “Day O! Day O! … me wanna go home” mimicked the pain banana workers felt at the end of a hard day’s work. He parlayed his success as a calypso singer and performer of calypso music into a lifetime of work to in movies, civil rights and advocacy for the humanitarian causes he championed.
Mr. Belafonte was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King. His ability to raise funds to support to the organization of the civil rights marches is well documented. In many instances, he was called upon to provide the funds to secure bail for students and other marchers when they were arrested and jailed for their civil rights activism. In addition to his civil rights activism, Harry Belafonte worked tirelessly to support human rights and humanitarian causes everywhere. His work in organizing the drive to raise funds for food and medical relief in countries facing drought and famine in Africa stands out as one example of his lifetime of service to the poor, needy and marginalized.
On the other hand, Mr. Belafonte’s work as a “calypsonian” did not sit well with some members of the calypso fraternity in Trinidad and Tobago where he was accused him of “stealing” the work of the local (Trinidad and Tobago) calypso artistes without providing them with any compensation for their creative works. For this reason, Mr. Belafonte’s his rendition of Lord Melody’s “Mama Look a Boo Boo Dey” was panned by some. In response, Mr. Belafonte asserted that he was not a competitor of the indigenous calypsonian but that his success was attributable to an ability to popularize calypso music by making it more palatable to the American ear.
TTADC joins in sending condolences to his family and paying tribute to a great Caribbean man. He will be remembered for his dedication to the causes he supported and his humanitarism. RIP, Mr. Belafonte.