Harry Belafonte, the singer and actor who became a civil rights activist, has died at 96.

The Grammy, Emmy and Tony winning star died of congestive heart failure at his New York home on Tuesday, with his wife by his side, according to a spokesperson.

Belafonte (R) with actress Jayne Mansfield, her boyfriend Mickey Hargitay (L), and movie columnist Mike Connolly (C) in 1957

Known for his signature song Banana Boat (Day-O), he was largely responsible for bringing Calypso music to an international audience in the 1950s, and the first singer, in any genre, to sell a million records in a year.

One of the first black performers to gain a wide following on film, he starred in movies including Carmen Jones, Island in the Sun and Odds Against Tomorrow.

Just last year, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, becoming the oldest person ever to receive the honour.

Alongside his sparkling Hollywood career, he was a committed activist, working closely with Martin Luther King Jr during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

More recently, he reached out to younger black celebrities, scolding Jay Z and Beyonce for failing to meet their “social responsibilities,” and mentoring stars including singer Usher, rapper Common and actor Danny Glover.

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Fittingly, Belafonte made an apt cameo appearance in Spike Lee’s Oscar winning 2018 film BlacKkKlansman, playing an elder statesman schooling young activists about America’s past.

Born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr on 1 March, 1927, in Harlem, New York, he was sent to live with a grandmother in Jamaica aged five, where he stayed until he was bought home aged 13, at the start of World War II.

Joining the Navy after attending High School in New York, he served for almost two years as a munitions loader before being honourably discharged.

On his return to New York, he worked as a caretaker, and after being gifted a theatre ticket in return for some repairs, fell in love with the theatre.

He went on to train as an actor with the Dramatic Workshop of the New School of Social Research, with classmates including Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur, Rod Steiger and Tony Curtis.

Harry Belafonte, left, and Sidney Poitier pose in the audience at the 43rd NAACP Image Awards on Friday, Feb. 17, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Belafonte (L) pictured with Sidney Poitier in 2012

Sidney Poitier, the first black actor to win an Oscar for best actor, went on to become a good friend.