Hollywood remembers Harry Belafonte as a ‘shining example of how to ... make change’

A black-and-white image of Harry Belafonte smiling, wearing a suit and holding an Emmy Award
Harry Belafonte died Tuesday in New York.
(Bettmann Archive via Getty Images)

Actors, musicians, filmmakers, authors and more have gathered on social media to celebrate the life and career of Harry Belafonte, who died Tuesday in New York. He was 96.

Questlove, Spike Lee, Tony Bennett, Ava DuVernay, Viola Davis, Ice Cube, Oprah Winfrey, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Travolta, Sheryl Lee Ralph, John Legend and Barack Obama were among the many who honored the revered singer, actor and civil rights activist by sharing quotes, condolences and fond memories on Instagram and Twitter.

“May God Have My Dear Friend HARRY BELAFONTE At A Peaceful Rest,” wrote Lee, who directed Belafonte in his final film, “BlacKkKlansman.” “We Are Losing Our Giants Left And Right. We Have To Celebrate Our Elders While They Are With Us.”


“Another ‘GREAT TREE’ has fallen: Harry Belafonte, a Trailblazer and Hero to us all,” actor and TV host Winfrey wrote. “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. Your being here on Earth has Blessed us all.”

Singer, actor and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte dies at 96. He was the first Black man to win an Emmy and a Tony.

April 25, 2023

Hollywood producer and former President Obama shared a photo on Twitter of himself and Belafonte holding hands in the Oval Office.

“Harry Belafonte was a barrier-breaking legend who used his platform to lift others up,” Obama tweeted. “He lived a good life – transforming the arts while also standing up for civil rights. And he did it all with his signature smile and style. Michelle and I send our love to his wife, kids, and fans.”

Actors Travolta and Ralph — who starred alongside Belafonte in the 1995 film “White Man’s Burden” — reminisced on social media about their experience working with the trailblazer.

“He was the definition of grace, poise, and generosity of spirit,” Travolta wrote on his Instagram story. “We will miss you Harry.”

“I was pregnant with my daughter [while shooting ‘White Man’s Burden’] and he claimed her as his Godchild,” Ralph tweeted, adding, “Mr. Belafonte was always very supportive of my voice as an entertainer and activist saying, ‘When used properly, you will help many.’”


Musician and filmmaker Questlove remembered Belafonte on Instagram as a “shining example of how to use your platform to make change in the world” and recalled how the performer’s contributions to the anti-apartheid movement influenced his Oscar-winning documentary, “Summer of Soul.”

“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,’” Questlove wrote.

“That stuck with me. If there is one lesson we can learn from him it is ‘what can I do to help mankind?’ Thank You Harry Belafonte!”

Newly minted Oscar winner Curtis shared on Instagram a photo of Belafonte and her actor parents, Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, on the July 1953 cover of Ebony magazine. Citing Black Facts, Curtis noted that the publication marked the first time a Black person and two white people appeared together on a magazine cover in the United States.

“Artists uniting to use their art form to make transformational change in the world ... is one of the great benefits to living a public life,” Curtis captioned the image.

“Harry Belafonte exemplified this and utilized every aspect of his immeasurable talent, applying it specifically to the plight of other human beings and their civil rights. I am happy that my parents both participated in a little of that work, and that they combined their talents for the inauguration of President Kennedy in 1961 and that they broke at least one barrier/restriction when they appeared together for the first time on a magazine cover. Rest in great POWER Mr. Bellafonte.”


Veteran rapper and actor Ice Cube hailed Belafonte on Twitter as “more than a singer, more than an actor and more than a man,” adding that the late entertainer “will be missed.”

Legendary crooner Bennett posted side-by-side photos: One of him and Belafonte sharing a moment with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and another of him and Belafonte decades later, still smiling together.

“Met Harry in 1948 and knew then he would be a huge star. More than that, he fought for social justice & equality and never, ever gave up,” Bennett tweeted. “Our dearest of friends, he will be deeply missed by myself and so many for all he contributed to the world.”

During a Tuesday event for Time magazine, singer Legend cherished the “private time” he spent over the last 10 years with Belafonte, who inspired him “so much personally.” The “All of Me” hitmaker lauded Belafonte’s efforts to use “his platform in a subversive way” while “infusing messages of protest and revolution in everything he did.”

“If you think about what it means to be an artist and an activist, he was literally the epitome of what that was,” Legend told the crowd, reacting to his friend’s death in real time.

“He’s one of the most successful artists of his time. ... There were so many people who put their lives on the line for us to be able to vote, for us to be able to have equal rights in this country. And Mr. Belafonte was one of those people. He saw a lot of his friends get killed. He gave so much, lived through so much, helped us grow as a nation and as a world, and we all should be so grateful that he lived such a long, powerful, revolutionary life.”


Oscar-winning actor Davis thanked Belafonte via Instagram for his “vision and talent.”

“Man.....Mr. used your profile and gifts to leave a legacy of activism, of hope, dignity...excellence,” she wrote. “Thank you for being a beacon. You are now amongst our beautiful ancestors..........continue to guide us! May flights of angels....”

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Actors Mia Farrow and Jeffrey Wright also took to Twitter to pay tribute to Belafonte. Farrow reflected on “what a wonderful world” Earth would be if more people were like him, while Wright said he’ll “never forget” the day Belafonte approached him on the street and complimented his performance in “Angels in America” on Broadway.

“We have lost the great Harry Belafonte-beautiful singer, brilliant and brave civil rights activist, a deeply moral and caring man. Miss you already Harry,” Farrow tweeted. “Harry’s life shines as an example for all of us to strive for. He lived for humankind. He stood against injustice — not only here but in South Africa & around the world.”

“Harry Belafonte was a standard bearer, in the tradition of [Paul] Robeson, for generational artistry and deeply informed & committed social & political engagement. Maybe the last of a great tribe. As smart as he was knockdown handsome,” Wright tweeted. “He met the moment thruout his life. What a man. RIP.”

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“BlacKkKlansman” star Laura Harrier shared a photo of her and “legend” Belafonte on the set of the Oscar-winning film and said it “was an incredible honor to meet and work with him thanks to” Lee.

“The Wire” actor Wendell Pierce praised Belafonte as a “voice that brings together the community to engage each other in the exercise of self determination, the declaration of that society’s values, and in doing that inspire the society to action.”


“Harry Belafonte epitomized what the role of an artist should be,” he tweeted. “A man of conviction.”

Dancer and actor Debbie Allen credited Belafonte with “inspiring the world to fight for Freedom and Humanity.”

“Harry, I will always treasure the wonderful conversations we had,” she wrote on Instagram. “We will always Speak Your Name.”

Brand accounts for cable TV network Turner Classic Movies and music-streaming platform Spotify also shared statements honoring the entertainment icon.

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of legendary entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte,” TCM tweeted. “From his dedicated contributions to civil rights, to his unparalleled legacy in movies and music, we will always be grateful for his unforgettable work.”

Today, we mourn the passing and celebrate the life of the barrier-breaking musician Harry Belafonte,” Spotify tweeted. “He was a legendary artist, civil rights icon, and an EGOT holder among many other accomplishments. His work on and off the stage is an inspiration. Mister Belafonte, you will be missed.”


Rather than speaking on Belafonte’s legacy, director DuVernay eulogized her “ancestor” in his own words by sharing the following quote on Instagram:

“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. Every attempt to do something that spoke to the greater truth and the greater glory of what our inner souls were about was what I tried to do.”