Joe Biden mourns Harry Belafonte, calls late artiste ‘groundbreaking American’

President Joe Biden has expressed sadness over the passing of Harry Belafonte, a “groundbreaking American” who used his talent, fame, and voice to “help redeem the soul of our nation.”

In a statement issued on Monday, Biden said: “Jill and I are saddened by the passing of a groundbreaking American,” and called Belafonte a “powerful ally of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other giants of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Belafonte, who died at the age of 96, was born to Caribbean parents in Harlem, New York, in 1927.

As Biden noted in his statement, Belafonte “dedicated his entire life to breaking barriers and bridging divides.”

He became one of America’s original breakthrough singers and performers, and achieved a string of firsts, including being the first Black matinee idol, the first recording artist to sell over a million records, the first Black male Broadway actor to win a Tony award, and the first Black producer to win an Emmy award.

Biden also highlighted Belafonte’s humanitarian efforts, saying that he “used his fame and fortune for the public good throughout his extraordinary career.”

Belafonte raised money and donated resources to post bail for activists jailed for acts of civil disobedience and provided the critical funds to launch the Freedom Rides.

He lobbied against apartheid in South Africa and for the release of Nelson Mandela, and was one of the visionaries behind “We Are the World,” an innovative record released to raise millions of dollars to support humanitarian aid in Sudan and Ethiopia.

Belafonte’s humanitarian and artistic efforts earned him several accolades, including a Kennedy Center Honor, the National Medal of the Arts, and a Grammy lifetime achievement award. Biden praised Belafonte’s legacy of “outspoken advocacy, compassion, and respect for human dignity,” saying it will endure.

“We send our deepest condolences to his family and legions of admirers across the country and the world,” Biden said in his statement. “Harry Belafonte’s accomplishments are legendary, and he will be remembered as a great American.”

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