Hugh Masekela: Life and career of the jazz trumpeter

Hugh Ramopolo Masekela (4 April 1939 – 23 January 2018) was a South African trumpeter, flugelhornist, cornetist, composer and singer. He is considered the “father of South African jazz.”
Masekela's songs Up, Up and Away and instrumental Grazing in the Grass were hits in the US in the late 60s. / Net
Masekela's songs Up, Up and Away and instrumental Grazing in the Grass were hits in the US in the late 60s. / Net

Hugh Ramopolo Masekela (4 April 1939 – 23 January 2018) was a South African trumpeter, flugelhornist, cornetist, composer and singer. He is considered the “father of South African jazz.” Masekela was known for his jazz compositions and for writing well-known anti-apartheid songs such as “Soweto Blues” and “Bring Him Back Home”. He also had a number 1 US pop hit in 1968 with his version of “Grazing in the Grass”.

Masekela was born in Kwa-Guqa Township, Witbank, South Africa to Thomas Selena Masekela, who was a health inspector and sculptor and his wife, Pauline Bowers Masekela, a social worker. As a child, he began singing and playing piano and was largely raised by his grandmother, who ran an illegal bar for miners. At the age of 14, after seeing the film Young Man with a Horn (in which Kirk Douglas plays a character modelled on American jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke), Masekela took up playing the trumpet. His first trumpet was given to him by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, the anti-apartheid chaplain at St. Peter’s Secondary School.

From 1964 to 1968 he was married to singer and activist Miriam Makeba. He was the father of American television host Sal Masekela.

Masekela, a leading figure in the struggle to end apartheid, died in Johannesburg on 23 January 2018 from prostate cancer, aged 78.

 

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