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Mon, 04.02.1928

Dolly Rathebe, South African Entertainer, and Columnist born

Dolly Rathebe

*Dolly Rathebe was born on this date in 1928. She was a Black South African musician, columnist, and actress.

Dolly Rathebe was born in Randfontein, South Africa but grew up in Sophiatown, which she describes as having been "a wonderful place." She was discovered around 1948 after singing at a picnic in Johannesburg. A talent scout from Gallo approached her, and it was not long before her career took off. Rathebe rose to fame in 1949, aged 21, when she appeared as a nightclub singer in the British-produced movie Jim Comes To Jo'burg - the first film to portray urban Africans in a positive light. During a photoshoot for Drum magazine at a mine dump, Rathebe and the white photographer, Jürgen Schadeberg, were arrested under the Immorality Act, which forbade interracial relationships.

She also wrote a gossip column for DRUM magazine for many years. When Alf Herbert's African Jazz and Variety show opened in 1954, Rathebe appeared and remained Herbert's main attraction for many years. She became an international star when she sang with the Afro-jazz group Elite Swingsters in 1964. After the Apartheid government in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Rathebe found it more and more difficult to perform, especially after an 8 pm curfew was imposed. She moved with her family to Cape Town township and, to survive, ran a bar for many years.

In 1989, Rathebe re-united with the Elite Swingsters to perform in a film set in 1950s Johannesburg. The group stayed together, issuing a new album, Woza, in 1991. Two more albums followed this; A Call for Peace (1995) and Siya Gida/We Dance (1997). In 2001, Rathebe received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the South African Music Awards. In 2003, at 75, Rathebe appeared in a Johannesburg show, Sof'Town, A Celebration! where she sang "Randfontein," the story of a drunk miner returning home to find his wife in bed with another man, who is then beaten and chased out.

In her later years, Rathebe was a leading light in Pretoria's Ikageng Women's League. She funded the construction of a multi-purpose hall at Sofasonke village near Klipgat, north of Pretoria. The hall is named "Meriting kwaDolly," which means "Dolly's Retreat." In 2004, Rathebe was awarded the South African Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for her "excellent contribution to music and the performing arts and commitment to the ideals of justice, freedom, and democracy." Dolly Rathebe died on September 16, 2004. 

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