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*Hugh Masekela was born on this date in 1939. He was a Black South African trumpeter, flugelhornist, cornetist, composer, and singer.
Hugh Ramopolo Masekela was born in Witbank, South Africa. He began singing and playing piano as a child. At age 14, he played the trumpet after seeing the film Young Man With a Horn. Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, the Chaplain at St. Peter’s Secondary School, gave him his first trumpet. The leader of the then Johannesburg "Native" Municipal Brass Band, Uncle Sauda, taught him the fundamentals of trumpet playing and Masekela quickly mastered the instrument. Soon, some of his schoolmates also became interested in playing instruments, leading to the formation of the Huddleston Jazz Band, South Africa's first youth orchestra.
Since 1954, Masekela has played music that closely reflected the agony, conflict, and exploitation South Africa faced. He is an artist whose music vividly portrayed the struggles and sorrows, as well as the joys and passions of his country. His music protested Apartheid, slavery, government; the hardships individuals lived. Masekela reached a large population of people that also felt oppressed. By 1956, after leading other ensembles, Masekela joined Alfred Herbert's African Jazz Revue. Following a Manhattan Brothers tour of South Africa in 1958, Masekela wound up in the orchestra for the musical King Kong, South Africa's first blockbuster theatrical success.
At the end of 1959, Abdullah Ibrahim and Masekela formed the Jazz Epistles. Following the March 21, 1960, Sharpeville Massacre and the increased brutality of the Apartheid state, Masekela left the country and visited the United States, where Harry Belafonte befriended him. He attended the Manhattan School of Music in New York, where he studied classical trumpet from 1960-64. He had hits with his music in the United States with the pop jazz tunes "Up, Up and Away" and the number one smash "Grazin' in the Grass" (1968). He also appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and was featured in the film.
Mainly an ensemblist, Masekela has had guest appearances on recordings by The Byrds ("So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star" and "Lady Friend") and Paul Simon ("Further to Fly"). In 1987, he had a hit single, "Bring Him Back Home," which became an anthem for the movement to free Nelson Mandela. Reconnecting with his African roots in the 1980s led to collaboration with West and Central African musicians and South African players when he set up a mobile studio in Botswana.
He re-absorbed and re-used mbaqanga strains, a style he has used since his return to South Africa. In the 1980s, he toured with Paul Simon in support of Simon's album Graceland, which featured other South African artists such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Miriam Makeba, Ray Phiri, and other elements of the band Kalahari. He also collaborated in the musical development for the Broadway play Sarafina! In 2003, he was featured in the documentary film Amandla!
In 2004, he released his autobiography, Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela, which detailed his struggles against apartheid in his homeland and his personal struggles against alcoholism. In this period, he blended South African sounds with an adult contemporary sound through two albums he recorded with Herb Alpert and solo recordings, Techno-Bush, Tomorrow, Uptownship, Beatin' Aroun' de Bush, Sixty, Time, and "Revival."
His song, "Soweto Blues," sung by his former wife, Miriam Makeba, is a blues/jazz piece that mourns the carnage of the Soweto riots in 1976. He has also provided interpretations of songs composed by Jorge Ben, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Caiphus Semenya, Jonas Gwangwa, Dorothy Masuka, and Fela Kuti. In 2007, he became a Board Member of The Woyome Foundation for Africa. Masekela has a son Sal Masekela, host of American channel E!'s show Daily 10 and various extreme sports programs.
In 2009, Masekela released "Phola". It includes some songs he wrote in the 1980s that he never completed as well as a reinterpretation of "The Joke of Life (Brinca De Vivre). In 2010, Masekela was featured with his son in a series of videos on ESPN called "Umlando - Through my Father's Eyes." The series focused on Hugh and Sal's travels through South Africa. It was aired in 10 parts during the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Hugh Masekela died on January 23rd, 2017.