Hugh Masekela 1939-2018

January 25, 2018

South African jazz musician Hugh Masekela passed away on Tuesday, January 23 from prostate cancer, according to a tweet from Masekela’s family. He was 78.

Born on April 4, 1939 in South Africa, Masekela was an influential flugelhornist, cornetist, composer, and singer who would go on to write and record anti-apartheid songs like “Soweto Blues” and “Bring Him Back Home,” which was written for Nelson Mandela. His solo career boasts more than 40 albums. In 1959, he started The Jazz Epistles with Dollar Brand, Kippie Moeketsi, Makhaya Ntshoko, and Johnny Gertze, the first African jazz group to record an LP.

When Masekela was 21, he left South Africa for New York, where he studied at the Manhattan School of Music. There he would witness musician Miles Davis and John Coltrane in the local jazz scene. Three years later, he released his debut album, titled Trumpet Africaine, in 1963. As the 1960s progressed, he would find himself performing with Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, The Who, and Jimi Hendrix after his move to Los Angeles.

His 1968 instrumental single “Grazing In The Grass” went to number one on the American pop charts and sold four million copies, solidifying his place in the national and global scene.

Following the unbanning of the ANC and the release of Nelson Mandela, Masekela moved back to South Africa in 1990. He continued to release albums every few years up until present day, the most recent of which is No Borders, which debuted in 2016.

“A loving father, brother, grandfather and friend, our hearts beat with profound loss,” his family wrote in a statement on twitter. “Hugh’s global and activist contribution to and participation in the areas of music, theatre, and the arts in general is contained in the minds and memory of millions across six continents and we are blessed and grateful to be part of a life and ever-expanding legacy of love, sharing and vanguard creativity that spans the time and space of six decades. Rest in power beloved, you are forever in our hearts.”

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