South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela dies aged 78

Tuesday January 23 2018

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South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela has died aged 78 after a long battle with prostate cancer, his family said on Tuesday morning.

“After a protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer, he passed on peacefully in Johannesburg, South Africa, surrounded by his family,” read the statement from his family.

His fans and leaders including South African President Jacob Zuma expressed their condolences following the news of his death.

“Mr Masekela was one of the pioneers of jazz music in South Africa whose talent was recognised and honoured internationally over many years. He kept the torch of freedom alive globally fighting apartheid through his music and mobilising international support for the struggle for liberation and raising awareness of the evils of apartheid,” President Zuma said in a statement.

Last October, Mr Masekela cancelled a scheduled performance at the Hugh Masekela Heritage Festival in Rockville, Soweto, south of Johannesburg, saying he wanted to focus fully in battling the disease and urged men to go for regular cancer check-ups.

The jazz maestro was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008. He is said to have undergone several operations including an eye surgery in March 2016 after the cancer spread.

South African jazz musician Hugh Masekela performs at a previous Safaricom Festival in Nairobi. PHOTO | COURTSEY

South African jazz musician Hugh Masekela performs at Safaricom Festival in Nairobi, Kenya on August 12, 2016. PHOTO | COURTESY OF SAFARICOM


Born on April 4, 1939 in KwaGuqa township in the eastern Mpumalanga province, Mr Masekela began singing and playing the piano at the tender age.

Popularly known as Bra Hugh, the multi-award winning singer and composer began playing the trumpet at the age of 14 inspired by the 1950 Young Man with a Horn film.

His first trumpet was given to him by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, an anti-apartheid chaplain at St Peter's Secondary School where he was schooling.

Masekela quickly rose to fame with a unique Afro-Jazz sound and hits such as Soweto Blues which became an anti- apartheid anthem in 1976.

Masekela's musical work was largely inspired by the turmoil that South Africa went through during apartheid. His music, he said, was used as a weapon to spread political change.

Hugh Masekela married musician Miriam Makeba in 1964, but later divorced in 1966.

He is survived by his wife, Elinam Cofie, whom he married in 1999, his daughter Pula Twala, and his son, Selema ‘Sal’ Masekela, from his relationship with Haitian Jessie Marie Lapierre.

In 2004, Masekela published his autobiography, Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela (co-authored with D. Michael Cheers), which Vanity Fair, a US magazine said "…you’ll be in awe of the many lives packed into one."

South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela

South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela performs during the burial of music legend and anti-apartheid activist Miriam Makeba in Johannesburg on November 15, 2008. AFP PHOTO | ALEXANDER JOE

Mr Masekela received several accolades throughout his life, among them the Order of Ikhamanga – South African National Orders Ceremony (2010); an honorary Doctorate in Music from the University of York (2014); a Doctor of Music (honoris causa) from Rhodes University (2015); and the African Music Legend Award - Ghana Music Awards (2007).