Hugh Masekela, Legendary South African Jazz Musician, Dead at 78
Hugh Masekela, the legendary South African jazz artist, died this morning in Johannesburg, the New York Times reports. The trumpeter and activist, who had been fighting prostate cancer for nearly a decade, “passed peacefully” in his sleep, his family said in a statement. He was 78. In a statement obtained by the Guardian, his family said: “A loving father, brother, grandfather and friend, our hearts beat with a profound loss. 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 memories of millions across six continents.”
Masekela gained popularity in the 1950s as a member of South Africa’s Jazz Epistles. The group was forced underground in 1960, when the government banned gatherings of more than 10 black people. He left the country later that year, briefly studied in London, and then, with the patronage of Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba, took a scholarship to study classical trumpet in Manhattan. In 1968, his single “Grazing in the Grass” hit Number 1 on the Billboard chart.
Masekela also saw his music as a tool for political activism. In 1986, he released the popular anthem “Mandela (Bring Him Back Home)”; the following year he helped mastermind Paul Simon’s Graceland tour, on which he performed some of his own music. He continued to tour until a pair of farewell shows in 2010, and played one-off performances as recently as 2016.