NEW YORK — Harry Belafonte, the civil rights and entertainment giant who started as a revolutionary actor and singer and became an activist, humanitarian and global conscience, has died. He was 96 years old.

Belafonte died Tuesday of congestive heart failure at his New York home, with his wife Pamela by his side, said Ken Sunshine of public relations firm Sunshine Sachs Morgan & Lylis.

Belafonte was one of the first black artists to gain a large following in films and to sell a million records as a singer; many still know him for his hit “Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” and his “Day-O! Daaaaay-O.” But he forged a greater legacy once he ended his acting career in the 1960s and lived by his hero Paul Robeson’s edict that artists are “the guardians of the truth”.

Belafonte not only participated in protest marches and benefit concerts, but also helped organize them and drum up their support. He worked closely with his friend and generational peer, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., often advocating on his behalf to politicians and other artists and helping him financially. He risked his life and livelihood and set high standards for young black celebrities, scolding Jay Z and Beyonce for not living up to their ‘social responsibilities’ and advising Usher, Common, Danny Glover and more. In Spike Lee’s 2018 film “BlacKkKlansman,” he was rightly cast as an elderly statesman teaching young activists about the country’s past.

Belafonte had been a major entertainer since the 1950s. He won a Tony Award in 1954 for his starring role in John Murray Anderson’s “Almanac,” and five years later became the first black actor to win an Emmy for the show. “Tonight with Harry Belafonte” television special.

In 1954, he co-starred with Dorothy Dandridge in the musical “Carmen Jones”, directed by Otto Preminger, a popular breakthrough for an all-black cast. The 1957 film “Island in the Sun” was banned in several southern cities, where theater owners were threatened by the Ku Klux Klan due to the film’s interracial romance between Belafonte and Joan Fontaine.

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