The lyrics of the Calypso classic Jamaica Farewell have been on everyone’s mind from the time Harry Belafonte, singer, style icon, and civil rights activist, left us yesterday at the ripe age of 96 to take his sailing ship to the afterlife, if there is such a thing — we hope there is, and that charming, handsome Harry, a man of incredible talent and great principles, is still smiling his huge smile up there.
Apart from his legendary music career spanning decades and his screen appearances, the Jamaican-American singer was closely involved in the American civil rights movement, fighting segregation and other injustices with Martin Luther King Jr, the foremost leader of the movement. Belafonte also sang against apartheid in South Africa, delivering a power-packed melodic punch with the cover version of British-Guyanese artiste Eddy Grant’s hit song Gimme Hope, Jo’anna.
Though an American citizen by birth — he was born in 1927 in Harlem, New York — Belafonte spent eight years as a child in Jamaica, the native country of his hard-working and financially struggling parents. He returned to America to finish school but learning difficulties got in the way. During World War II, he had a brief career as a munitions loader in 1944 at a military base in New Jersey.
With the end of WWII, Belafonte developed the desire to become an actor, and took acting classes in New York, where he met Sidney Poitier, another aspiring entertainer who would also go on to become a legend. Belafonte paid for these classes with small music gigs.
His ascent to superstardom began in 1954, with the release of a debut album that was a compilation of folk songs. His eponymous second album, Belafonte, was a chart-topper in 1956. The third album, Calypso, which drew upon his Jamaican heritage, made waves in America in 1957 and became the first album in the United States to cross 1 million copies in sales.
With a colourful personality to match his one-of-a-kind voice, Harry Belafonte was too much of a giant for his life to be described in a few words. These images, shared online after his death, give a glimpse into his extraordinary life and times.