Hugh Ramapolo Masekela was born April 4, 1939 in Witbank, South Africa. As a boy, an uncle exposed him to the American jazz styles of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. At 14, anti-apartheid activist Rev. Trevor Huddleston managed to snag a trumpet from Satchmo and gave it to the young prodigy.
After working with a band put together by Huddleston, Masekela went on to join another iconic band in The Jazz Epistles, which was the first all-Black jazz band in South Africa to make a record. However, his time with the band was short-lived.
In 1960, the Sharpeville massacre, when South African police opened fire on protesters, broke up the band. Apartheid’s oppressive tentacles tightened around this time and with the help of ex-wife Miriam Makeba, who relocated to New York, Masekela fled the country,
In 1968, Masekela scored a major No. 1 hit with his single “Grazing In The Grass,” leading to a prolific period of releases. In 1987, Masekela scored another hit with the anti-apartheid anthem “Bring Him Back Home” dedicated to late anti-apartheid leader and future South African President, Nelson Mandela.
In all, Masekela record well over 40 albums, and worked with the aforementioned Belafonte and Paul Simon among countless others. Top figures in his homeland have all paid respectful homage to “Bra Hugh” as he was affectionately known, and his family has graciously thanked his adoring fans.
Hugh Masekela was 78.
PHOTO: Tom Beetz
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