Harry Belafonte, Mary's Boy Child singer, actor and civil rights activist, dies aged 96

Belafonte is fondly remembered for his Official Christmas Number 1 single Mary's Boy Child, a million-seller in the UK.

Singer, actor and staunch civil rights activist Harry Belafonte has died aged 96, it's been announced.

The beloved American star was the recipient of a Grammy, Emmy and Tony award, as well as the coveted Official Christmas Number 1 in his lifetime. 

Belafonte died of heart failure at his New York home on Tuesday with his wife at his side, his spokesperson said. 

In the UK, he is best remembered for his track Mary's Boy Child, which became the Official Christmas Number 1 of 1957. Spending a total of seven weeks at Number 1, Mary's Boy Child also holds the distinction of being one of the best-selling singles in Official Charts history.

In an interesting chart quirk, Mary’s Boy Child has been a Christmas Number 1 twice for totally different artists. Harry Belafonte topped the charts with it in 1957 and Boney M took a one-horse open sleigh all the way to Number 1 with it (mashed up with Oh My Lord) in 1978.

MORE: Harry Belafonte's Official Charts history in full

Belafonte also achieved two further Top 10 hits on the Official Singles Chart; The Banana Boat Song (2) and Island In The Sun (3) both released in 1957 too.

The songs spoke to Belafonte's mission to bring the music of the Caribbean to the masses, helped in part by his starring roles in movies such as Carmen Jones, Island In The Sun and Odds Against Tomorrow.

Alongside his glittering Hollywood career, Belafonte was also a staunch advocate of civil rights, working closely with Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1950s and 60s. 

Born in March 1927, Belafonte originated in Harlem, New York before his family sent him to live with his grandmother in Jamaica aged five. He returned to the States following the start of World War II, aged 13.

Just last year, Belafonte became the oldest living person ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Tributes have poured in to the multi-hyphenate, praised news anchor Christiane Amanpour said that in a statement posted to Twitter that Belafonte "inspired generations around the whole world in the struggle for non-violent resistance justice and change. We need his example now more than ever."

Bernice King, the daughter of MLK Jr., said that "[he] showed up for my family in very compassionate ways."

Belafonte is survived by his third wife, Pamela Frank.

Article Image; Manevy/ANL/Shutterstock

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