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News > Culture

Legendary South African Trumpeter Hugh Masekela Dies

  • Bra Hugh began singing and playing the piano as a child.

    Bra Hugh began singing and playing the piano as a child. | Photo: Reuters

Published 23 January 2018

Masekela began playing the trumpet at the age of 14, after seeing the film Young Man with a Horn.

Legendary South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela – affectionately known as Bra Hugh – has died. The iconic jazz maestro, according to a release from his family, “passed peacefully” in Johannesburg.

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Masekela, a distinguishing figure in the struggle against apartheid, lost his battle “after a protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer,” the statement 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,” the statement read.

The son of the icon posted tributes to his father saying the senior Masekela had "hung up his horn" and also that his father was both "ageless and immortal" to him before posting a sketch of the late jazz legend. 

The 78-year-old was widely known as “the father of South African jazz.” Masekela performed with a distinctive Afro-Jazz style producing anthemic recordings, such as 1977's "Soweto Blues" – which became synonymous with the anti-apartheid movement.

Masekela's "Bring Him Back Home," which called for the release – from prison – of freedom fighter and late South African President Nelson Mandela, became an international anthem within the anti-apartheid movement.

“I've got to where I am in life not because of something I brought to the world but through something I found - the wealth of African culture.” Hugh Masekela

Bra Hugh became enamored with performing at an early age, singing and playing the piano as a child. Masekela began playing the trumpet at the age of 14, after seeing the film Young Man with a Horn.

Anti-apartheid chaplain, Archbishop Trevor Huddleston of St. Peter's Secondary School gifted Masekela his first trumpet. He joined the Alfred Herbert's African Jazz Revue in 1956. Masekela also studied in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

He forged famous friendships with other jazz legends such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane and was once married to Mama Africa, – South African singer and activist, Miriam Makeba.

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa confirmed the passing of the Cape Town legend, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008. A statement released by Masekela's team in October of 2016 said, at the time, that the veteran performer had undergone two surgeries that year, one in March and another in Sept.

Bra Hugh was born in Witbank, Gauteng on 4 April 1939, he is survived by his two children American TV host, actor and singer son, Sal Masekela and daughter, Pula Twala. 

peace to his soul
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