A Legend: Tribute to Hugh Masekela

Cape Town - Hugh Ramopolo Masekela was born on 4 April 1939 in the town of Witbank, South Africa.

The world renowned trumpeter, flugelhornist, cornetist, composer and singer is known for his jazz compositions, as well as for writing well-known anti-apartheid songs such as Soweto Blues and Bring Him Back Home.

At the age of 14, the deeply respected advocator of equal rights in South Africa, Father Trevor Huddleston, provided Masekela with a trumpet and, soon after, the Huddleston Jazz Band was formed.

Masekela began to hone his, now signature, sound in the late 1950s during a period of intense creative collaboration, and, soon thereafter as a member of the now legendary South African group, the Jazz Epistles.

Hugh Masekela

At the age of 21 he left South Africa to begin what would be 30 years in exile from the land of his birth. On arrival in New York he enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music. The young Masekela immersed himself in the New York jazz scene where nightly he watched greats like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus and Max Roach.

Under the tutelage of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, he was encouraged to develop his own unique style, feeding off African rather than American influences  - his debut album, released in 1963, was entitled Trumpet Africaine

In the late 1960s Hugh moved to Los Angeles, where he was befriended by hippie icons like David Crosby, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper.

His subsequent solo career spanned over five decades, during which time he has released over 40 albums.

In 1990 Masekela returned to South Africa, following the unbanning of the ANC and the release of Nelson Mandela  - an event anticipated in Hugh's anti-apartheid anthem Bring Home Nelson Mandela (1986) which had been a rallying cry around the world.

In 2004 Masekela published his compelling autobiography, Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela (co-authored with D. Michael Cheers).

In 2010, President Zuma honoured him with the highest order in South Africa: The Order of Ikhamanga, and 2011 saw Masekela receive a Lifetime Achievement award at the WOMEX World Music Expo in Copenhagen.

The US Virgin Islands proclaimed 'Hugh Masekela Day' in March 2011, not long after Hugh joined U2 on stage during the Johannesburg leg of their 360 World Tour. U2 frontman Bono described meeting and playing with Hugh as one of the highlights of his career.

(Photo: Gallo)

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