Legendary South African jazz musician Hugh Masekela has died at the age of 78 after a decade-long fight with cancer, according to a statement from his family on Tuesday (Jan. 23).
Often called the “Father of South African jazz,” Masekela died in Johannesburg after what his family said was a “protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer.”
Trumpeter, singer and composer Masekela, affectionately known locally as “Bra Hugh,” started playing the horn at 14 and quickly became an integral part of the 1950s jazz scene in Johannesburg as a member of the Jazz Epistles.
In a career spanning more than five decades, Mr. Masekela gained international recognition with his distinctive Afro-jazz sound and hits such as Soweto Blues, which served as one of the soundtracks to the anti-apartheid movement.
He opened the 2010 FIFA World Cup kick-off concert and performed at the event’s opening ceremony in Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium.
In the 1960s he went into exile in the United Kingdom and the United States, where he collaborated with American jazz legend Harry Belafonte and used his music to spread awareness about the oppressive system of white-minority rule in South Africa. He also scored an international number one hit in 1968 with “Grazing In The Grass.”
Masekela’s 1986 “Bring Him Back Home” song, written for Nelson Mandela, became an anthem of the 1980s anti-apartheid movement. The Grammy-nominated artist toured with Paul Simon and was a major player on the jazz and world music scene for decades.
He collaborated with many musicians including Paul Simon and Herb Alpert. He was married to South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba for two years.