Remembering Harry Belafonte: Family reflects on icon's life and legacy

Kemberly Richardson Image
Saturday, March 2, 2024
Web Extra: Harry Belafonte's family remembers him
Web Extra: Harry Belafonte's family shares memories.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A celebration of life gets underway Friday night in honor of the late Harry Belafonte on what would have been the actor, singer and activist's 97th birthday.

His four children and five grandchildren will be there.

A larger-than-life personality, Belafonte inspired and challenged those around him to do better and, as his son, David, told Eyewitness News, to fix things.

Kemberly Richardson sat down with the Belafontes, who shared touching and at times funny stories about a man who had many layers.

Kemberly Richardson has the latest.

"He was the master of expressing his dissatisfaction with the way things are," son David Belafonte said.

The measure of one's character isn't solely based on what they do in life. It's also about what one leaves behind after they die.

"I've never fully come to terms with the fact that he's gone," said grandson Amadeus.

"He was one of the first Black men of his caliber to take on the spaces he did," said granddaughter Sarafina Belafonte. "And so there's not a guide book for that. He was writing it himself, and I think as he got older and as those lessons were learned, he was able to show up for us in such a special and incredible way."

To his grandchildren, Belafonte was simply Farfar, Danish for Dad's Dad. To the rest of the world, he was a legendary actor, singer and activist.

"I rode in two lanes for so much of my life," said David. "It put an interesting and difficult challenge on a father-son relationship because so much of the professional side was prevalent all the time."

Still, David Belafonte, Harry's only son, took his father's priceless pearls of wisdom and strung them together.

David's wife, Malena, described her father-in-law as not a problem solver but a problem highlighter.

"He would see there's a problem, then he would highlight it," she said. "He would get everyone to try and fix it. Many of those problems that he did highlight have not been fixed yet, so that's up to us to do."

From the Belafonte family home, the stories are full and spirited.

"When we were by a pool - and he'd always wear Speedos, and then he'd always have the silver reflecting thing to get tanned - I found it hilarious," said grandson Amadeus Belafonte.

The Belafontes continue to celebrate a man who dedicated his life to service, and, in his own abstract way, got things done.

Crystal Cranmore reports.

"He was like, 'You've got to fight for the cause, here's what you've got to do,' and that was always instilled in all of us," said Sarafina.

That provided motivation to create The Belafonte Family Foundation in 2019.

"It was clear that something needed to happen, that would take his likeness, his essence, and create some kind of relevance for their and kids," said David.

The organization is built around several pillars, taking a multi-generational approach to crucial social concerns. And it is personal.

"I was bullied when I was younger," said Amadeus.

Hence a focus on, among others things, mental health.

The patriarch of the family enthusiastically signed off on the venture.

"We would frequently visit him or call, and he's like, 'What 'cha doing now? What are the next steps? How can I help?'" said Sarafina.

On April 25th of last year, Harry Belafonte passed away. He was 96 years old.

"Legacy lives inside, it's what you gleam from the experiences...bloodline," said David. "So when I look at you, you... I look at people, people that were motivated by Harry, I see agents of legacy."

Amadeus told Kemberly having Friday night's public memorial is important.

It's a way for him to come to terms, to find peace with his grandfather's passing.


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