Remembering Harry Belafonte: 1927-2023

amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, mourns the tragic loss of celebrated singer, actor, and passionate civil and human rights advocate and campaigner Harry Belafonte, who died on April 25 at the age of 96.

Among the many causes he championed, Harry Belafonte was an ardent supporter of the fight against AIDS and was a member of amfAR’s Board of Trustees from 2005 to 2018. He was a close friend of amfAR’s Founding Chairman Dr. Mathilde Krim, with whom he shared a devotion to progressive causes. Belafonte was one of the witnesses at Dr. Krim’s marriage in 1958 to Arthur Krim, then head of United Artists Motion Picture Company and later founder of Orion Pictures, and he performed the song “Matilda” at the wedding.

Helping launch amfAR’s Countdown to a Cure for AIDS initiative at the foundation’s New York Gala in 2014, Belafonte delivered a rousing speech in which he exhorted the audience to participate in the search for a cure. “So we leave it up you to rise to this great challenge, to climb the mountain, and to make possible what was once thought impossible,” he said. “I urge you not to sit on the sidelines, not to be a spectator. Stand up and join us in our pursuit of a cure for AIDS.”

NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 06: Harry Belafonte speaks onstage at the amfAR New York Gala to kick off Fall 2013 Fashion Week at Cipriani Wall Street on February 6, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)New York Gala 2013 Getty Images New York Gala; 2013; Getty Images

Mr. Belafonte was a close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and an outspoken campaigner for the end of apartheid in South Africa and the release of his friend Nelson Mandela. He was named a Kennedy Center honoree for his “lifetime of contributions to the arts and American culture.” In 1994, President Clinton awarded him a National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the United States government.

In 2015, amfAR honored Mr. Belafonte with its Award of Courage for his contributions to the fight against AIDS. The honor was among dozens of awards and accolades bestowed on him over the years by a wide range of organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, the Boy Scouts of America, City of Hope, Fight for Sight, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Peace Corps, the United States Department of State, and the Urban League.

“Harry Belafonte was a remarkably gifted and courageous human being and the embodiment of grace, compassion, and activism,” said amfAR Chief Executive Officer Kevin Robert Frost. “We are immensely grateful for his distinguished service on our Board of Trustees and his invaluable contributions to the fight against AIDS. He will be greatly missed by everyone at amfAR and we extend our heartfelt condolences to his family.”