78 year old Jazz Legend Hugh Masekela was born on 4 April 1939 in Witbank. As a child, he began playing the piano, but a movie about jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, Young Man with a Horn, inspired him to shift his musical allegiances.
Anti-apartheid activist Father Trevor Huddleston helped Masekela to acquire a trumpet and ensured he received tuition, resulting in his rapidly joining South Africa’s first youth orchestra, the Huddleston Jazz Band.
In the late 50s, Masekela joined up with Dollar Brand (later known as Abdullah Ibrahim), Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa, Johnny Gertze and alternately Early Mabuza or Makaya Ntshoko on drums, to form The Jazz Epistles, who regularly performed at the Odin Theatre in Sophiatown.
In 1959, Masekela joined the cast of Todd Matshikiza’s “all-African jazz opera” King Kong. The musical, which also helped launch the career of Miriam Makeba, received permission to perform in London in 1961.
Masekela married Miriam Makeba in 1964, but the couple divorced in 1966. Masekela had success in the United States with a pop-jazz tune, “Up, Up and Away”, in 1967. He performed at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, alongside Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, before releasing Grazing in the Grass in 1968, which reached number one on the pop and R&B charts.
In 1970, he toured Guinea with Miriam Makeba and met Nigerian AfroBeat musician Fela Kuti and the Ghanian band Hedzoleh Soundz. This led to his breakthrough album “Introducing Hedzoleh Soundz”, one of the most highly regarded Afro-jazz albums of the decade. In 1974, Masekela released his album I Am Not Afraid, which included Stimela (Coal Train), a song that became synonymous with his performances for decades to come. The details to the memorial service and funeral have not yet been released.