- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Flipboard
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Tumblr
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
Oprah, Spike Lee, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Maria Shriver and Questlove were among the entertainers, artists, thinkers, activists and humanitarians who took to social media Tuesday to pay tribute to Harry Belafonte following the news that the talented Jamaican American multihyphenate died at the age of 96.
The singer and actor died Tuesday of congestive heart failure at his Manhattan home on the Upper West Side, his rep told The Hollywood Reporter. The “Calyspo” singer released over 30 albums during his career, earned a Grammy lifetime achievement award and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and became a rare non-white leading man and sex symbol in Hollywood.
But Belafonte would also become a civil rights, humanitarian and activist icon, helping round up the celebrity presence at the Freedom March on Washington in 1963, where King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech and participated in the Alabama march from Selma to Montgomery. He would go on to use his name to bring attention to humanitarian issues from HIV/AIDS to poverty.
In an Instagram post, Oprah Winfrey touched on that legacy, sharing that “another great tree” had fallen. “Harry Belafonte, a Trailblazer and Hero to us all. Thank you for your music, your artistry, your activism, your fight for civil rights and justice — especially risking your life back in the day to get money to the movement,” she said. “Your being here on Earth has Blessed us all.”
President Joe Biden also spoke of Belafonte’s legacy on Tuesday, with the White House sharing a statement from the U.S. leader, who called the singer, activist and actor “a groundbreaking American who used his talent, his fame, and his voice to help redeem the soul of our Nation.”
“Harry Belafonte was born to Caribbean parents in Harlem, New York on March 1, 1927, when segregation was the order of American society. To our Nation’s benefit, Harry never accepted those false narratives and unjust boundaries. He dedicated his entire life to breaking barriers and bridging divides,” the statement continued. “Harry Belafonte’s accomplishments are legendary and his legacy of outspoken advocacy, compassion, and respect for human dignity will endure. He will be remembered as a great American.”
“May God Have My Dear Friend HARRY BELAFONTE At A Peaceful Rest,” director Spike Lee wrote in the caption of an Instagram photo featuring him and Belafonte. “We Are Losing Our Giants Left And Right. We Have To Celebrate Our Elders While They Are With Us.”
Fellow director Ava DuVernay chose to share a notable quote of Belafonte’s in an Instagram message denoting that he “became an ancestor” on Tuesday. “There were two choices that one could make… One was to do the art of the Eurocentric, which many chose to do, and try to do that art in as perfected a way as you possibly can. There’s one thing that’s gonna always be true about that fact or that choice. And that is that you’ll never touch the soul of who you are, because that’s not what your inner soul is experiencing,” DuVernay quoted Belafonte in her Instagram photo caption.
On Twitter, producer and former footballer Colin Kaepernick thanked “Mr. B” not only for his years of mentorship and guidance but “a lifetime of activism fighting for a better future for all of us. You will be missed by many, but your memory & impact live on.”
Abbott Elementary star and singer Sheryl Lee Ralph celebrated Belafonte as a “Jamaican American hero” in her Instagram remembrance. “Harry Belafonte was so many things and a supportive mentor and role model to me. I thank him for the love and support he gave to me and my children over the years,” she wrote. “My love and prayers to the Belafonte family. He will be deeply missed.”
Actor John Travolta, who worked with Belafonte on 1995’s White Man’s Burden, called his fellow actor the “definition of grace, poise and generosity of spirit.” Meanwhile, musician and producer Questlove wrote a lengthy social media post, noting that Belafonte was a “shining example of how to use your platform to make change in the world.”
“His activism was crucial for the civil rights movement. His activism was key in the anti-apartheid movement,” Questlove continued. “He represented many things to us: fun calypso music, iconic acting (I came to know him as #GeechieDan in the iconic #UptownSaturdayNight as a child) — but most importantly he taught me to think in terms of ‘WE’ not ‘I.’ That stuck with me.”
In a statement shared with THR, legendary music producer Berry Gordy spoke about his friend as “truly a man of cause, conviction and principle.”
“Besides being a great entertainer, he was a major political activist during the Civil Rights movement. I still remember the day in 1968 when Harry and I marched side by side on the Poor People’s March to Freedom,” Gordy continued. “He will be missed and my sincere condolences go out to his family.”
Danny Glover, who appeared in the 2016 short film Against the Wall that Belafonte produced to shed light on police brutality, said in a statement that the late star’s work “stood tall” alongside that of such other vaunted trailblazers as W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson. “Mr. B sang our songs, he carried our hopes and dreams,” Glover said. “With his passing, this is not only a deep and personal loss for me, but for the people of the world who have also lost a beloved artist and humanitarian.”
Journalist, author and Kennedy family member Maria Shriver spoke to Belafonte’s relationship and shared humanitarian work with her father, Sargent Shriver.
“Harry Belafonte wasn’t just a singer, he was an architect of change. He was an activist of the Civil Rights Movement, and he was also the first appointed Cultural Advisor to the Peace Corps,” she wrote on Instagram. “His whole life was devoted to making a difference, whether it was raising the awareness of justice or the HIV/AIDS crisis or women’s rights. Today, I hope you will not only listen to Harry Belafonte’s music, but learn a little more about what he fought for throughout his life, who he was as a man, and get inspired.”
Read more tributes below.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day