Legendary trumpeter and anti-apartheid activist, Hugh Masekela died on Tuesday, aged 78.
In a statement, his family said ‘Father of South African jazz’ “passed peacefully” in Johannesburg “after a protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer.”
They described him as “a loving father, brother, grandfather and friend” who would be “forever in our hearts.”
They said details of his memorial and burial services would be released later.
Masekela who was given his first trumpet when he was 14 used his ‘Soweto Blues’ to confront apartheid.
South African President Jacob Zuma said Masekela’s death was “an immeasurable loss to the music industry and to the country at large” and said: “His contribution to the struggle for liberation will never be forgotten.”
Affectionately called ‘Bra Hugh’, Masekela was born in the South African town of Witbank in 1939. He was inspired to learn the trumpet after seeing Kirk Douglas play Bix Beiderbecke in the 1950 film Young Man with a Horn.
He persuaded one of his teachers – the anti-apartheid crusader Father Trevor Huddleston – to buy him an instrument, promising to stay out of trouble in return.
In 1960, aged 21, he left South Africa to begin what would be 30 years in exile from the land of his birth.
Under the tutelage of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, he was encouraged to develop his own unique style. And in 1967, he performed at the Monterey Pop Festival alongside Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, The Who and Jimi Hendrix.
The following year, his instrumental single, ‘Grazing in the Grass,’ topped the charts in the US and became a worldwide hit.
In the 1970s, Mr. Masekela toured sub-Sarahan Africa and began a partnership with the Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, who had recently pioneered the genre known as Afrobeat. He also worked with the exiled South African saxophonist Dudu Pukwana and began fronting the Ghanaian group Hedzoleh Soundz.
Masekela returned to South Africa in 1990 following the release of Nelson Mandela, whose freedom he had called for in his 1986 anthem Bring Home Nelson Mandela.
In June 2010, he performed at both the opening concert of the Fifa World Cup and the tournament’s opening ceremony in Soweto’s Soccer City with Femi Kuti.
Reacting to the legend’s passing, Femi Kuti posted a picture of both of them at the event and captioned it ‘Good memories RIP Mr. Hugh.’
Masekela was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer in 2008 and in the last months of his life campaigned that men should go for regular cancer check-ups.