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Tributes flow for Jamaica’s ‘treasured icon’ Harry Belafonte 

Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Oliva Grange joined the local and international community in honouring the late singer, actor and activist, Harry Belafonte.

Belafonte, who was of Jamaican parentage and who used his entertainment platform to break racial barriers in the 1950s, died on Tuesday at 96.

The prime minister said that the nation has lost a “a treasured icon”, while hailing Belafonte for using his talent to promote social justice and equity for all.

Holness described the late icon as “a true ambassador for Jamaica and Jamaican culture” and “a trailblazer who paved the way for generations of artists and activists to come”.

“On behalf of the people of Jamaica, I extend our deepest condolences to Harry Belafonte’s family and loved ones. We will never forget his contributions to our country and the world, and we will continue to honour his memory,” Holness said.

Minister Grange, similarly, offered condolences to Belafonte’s widow, Pamela, his children, grandchildren, and friends.

She spoke fondly of Belafonte’s activism and heaped praises on the global superstar for being a “voice, face, and inspiration for black people everywhere”.

In a release from her ministry, the minister said that Belafonte, was “an important promoter of our folk music – bringing ‘Day-O’, ‘Jamaica Farewell’ and other songs to America and elsewhere”.

He also ignited a craze for Caribbean music in the US, where his album ‘Calypso’, which featured ‘Day-O’ and ‘Jamaica Farewell’ topped the Billboard chart shortly after release in 1956 and remained at the top for 31 weeks. ‘Calypso’ was the first album by a single artist to sell more than a million copies.

He was also one of the first black actors to achieve success in Hollywood as a leading man.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Mark Golding, in expressing his condolences, stated: “Harry Belafonte was a tireless advocate for civil rights and a staunch opponent of racism, inequality, and oppression. His contributions to the fight against Apartheid in South Africa and his advocacy for the rights of the marginalised will forever be remembered. Rest in Peace to a true son of Jamaica.”

A two-time Grammy Award recipient, Belafonte was also credited with helping to organise the USA for Africa project, which resulted in the all-star recording ‘We Are the World’ in 1985 that raised money to fight famine in Africa.

He also studied black history at the urging of his shipmates in the US Navy and worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr in the civil rights movement.

In 2018, Belafonte was the recipient of the Order of Merit from the Government of Jamaica, for outstanding contribution in the field of music.

He was born in New York in 1927. His mother, Melvine, was born in Jamaica. She moved back to Jamaica in 1936 with Harry and his younger brother but went back to America soon afterwards, leaving the boys in the care of relatives. Before rejoining her in New York in 1940, they were able to immerse themselves in Jamaican culture.

The news of Belafonte’s death today has been met with other moving tributes locally and internationally and has sparked global news coverage as the world mourns the loss of one of the greats.

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