Canada sings a Jamaica Farewell to Belafonte


By Stephen Weir

Harry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte, the legendary musician, actor, and civil rights activist, passed away yesterday at the age of 96. His death has sent shockwaves through the Canadian Jamaican community, which he had long championed.

Belafonte was born in the USA in 1927 to Caribbean immigrants. He and his brother spent part of their childhood in his mother’s home country, Jamaica, (his father was from Martinique) but later moved back to Harlem. Throughout his career, he celebrated his Caribbean roots and used his platform to advocate for social justice and political change.

Belafonte’s impact on the music industry cannot be overstated. He was one of the first Black performers to achieve mainstream success, with hits like “Banana Boat Song” and “Jump In The Line”. He also used his platform to bring attention to Caribbean music and culture, helping to popularize calypso in Canada, the United States, and beyond.

In his home base of New York City, Belafonte was much more than just a musician. He was an active participant in the civil rights movement, working alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders to fight for racial equality. He was also a dedicated humanitarian, using his wealth and influence to support a range of causes, including famine relief in Africa and disaster relief in Haiti.

Harry Belafonte

Belafonte’s impact was also felt in Canada. He had a strong connection to the Canadian Caribbean community, having performed at numerous festivals and events over the years. He also supported several Canadian organizations that focused on issues affecting the Caribbean diaspora, including the Jamaican Canadian Association and the Caribbean Women’s Society.

“I’ve watched the Canadian nation grow and watched its diversity increase. There’s still much that needs to be done. There’s still a lot of people who feel disenfranchised who come and speak to that fact, particularly the indigenous, the native Canadian community,” he told the Canadian Press back in 2007. “But that notwithstanding, there’s still much that goes on here in Canada that I think is wonderful and worthwhile, and I’ve done many things in the world where Canadians are very strategic to the experience.”

Earlier this week, the government of Jamaica named a section of its North Coast Highway in honor of Belafonte. The government also announced that a state-of-the-art performing arts center will be built in St James and named in honor of “The King of Calypso.”