The following statement is issued by Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of The University of the West Indies, on the passing of singer, actor and civil rights activist, Dr. The Honourable Harry Belafonte.
It was with deep sadness that I learned of the passing of Dr. The Honourable Harry Belafonte on April 25, 2023. We at The University of the West Indies (UWI) mourn with his widow, children and grandchildren, and extend to them and their immediate and wider circle our sincere condolences and hope that the tremendous global outpouring of affection will help to sustain them in their time of loss.
Harry was a staunch supporter of The University of the West Indies for more than two decades through his championing of the annual American Foundation for The UWI (AFUWI) galas held in New York to raise funds for scholarships for financially challenged students. His participation at the galas until ill health no longer permitted him to attend in recent years, was always a wonderful thing to behold as he engaged all with that hypnotically husky voice and charm.
Activism and artistry were two defining elements of Harry’s persona. He broke racial barriers when he emerged on the musical stage in North America in the 1950s and throughout his stellar career, he remained steadfast in his stand against racism, particularly through his support for the civil rights movement led by his friend the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as his stance against apartheid.
For his exemplary contributions to artistry and activism, in 1996, The UWI conferred upon him the Degree of Honorary Doctor of Letters. The citation prepared for Harry, itself a work of artistry, reflects on his life and work and captures the gentle giant in a wonderful sentence presenting him for the award “I present Harry Belafonte, singer, actor, theatrical director and producer, freedom fighter, philanthropist, campaigner for human rights and justice.” We are sad that he had to go, but what a tremendous legacy he has left. Rest well Harry, the tallyman has come, time to go home.