Singer, actor, and human rights activist Harry Belafonte, who broke racial barriers as a performer during segregation and used his voice to promote social justice, has died of congestive heart failure, his publicist confirmed. He was 96 years old.

Belafonte was born in Harlem to Caribbean immigrant parents and, after dropping out of high school to join the Navy during World War II, rose to prominence as a recording artist, helping give rise to a calypso craze with his iconic version of the Jamaican folk song “Day-O” (a.k.a. “The Banana Boat Song”). Though known for its upbeat tune, the song speaks to themes of labor and anti-colonialism. Belafonte initially heard it sung on the street by fruit vendors while visiting his mother’s native Jamaica.

Harry Belafonte – “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” (Live)

“The song is a work song,” he told NPR in 2011. “It’s about men who sweat all day long, and they are underpaid. They’re begging for the tallyman to come and give them an honest count: ‘Count the bananas that I’ve picked so I can be paid.’ When people sing in delight and dance and love it, they don’t really understand unless they study the song — that they’re singing a work song that’s a song of rebellion.”

The spirit of rebellion and justice permeated Belafonte’s work as his career developed. He earned the coveted EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards) starring in movies as well as Broadway productions and hosting a television variety show The Revlon Revue: Tonight With Belafonte, which featured both Black and white performers. He ultimately left the show after being asked to make it all-Black due to complaints from CBS stations in the South about its integrated cast, but not before becoming the first Black person to win an Emmy.

Belafonte was a close friend and major supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He helped organize the Freedom March on Washington in 1963, where King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, and also raised money to bail King out of jail in Birmingham. Coretta Scott King wrote in her autobiography, “Whenever we got into trouble or when tragedy struck, Harry has always come to our aid, his generous heart wide-open.” Belafonte also helped organize Nelson Mandela‘s first trip to the U.S. after he was released from prison.

Always outspoken, Belafonte famously criticized former President Barack Obama for not showing enough concern for the poor and, even more famously, called out Jay-Z and Beyoncé for “[turning] their back on social responsibility,” prompting a response from Jay-Z in his song “Nickels And Dimes” (“I’m just trying to find common ground / ‘Fore Mr. Belafonte come and chop a n—a down / Mr. Day O, major fail / Respect these youngins boy, it’s my time now.”). The two musicians eventually made peace.

Belafonte continued fighting for social justice into his 90s, inspired by his mother, who he quoted as saying, “Don’t ever let injustice go by unchallenged.”

He is survived by his wife, Pamela Frank, four children, two stepchildren, and eight grandchildren.