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Legendary South African Trumpeter Hugh Masekela Dies


Legendary Jazz Musician, Political Activist Hugh Masekela dies at 78
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Legendary Jazz Musician, Political Activist Hugh Masekela Dies at 78

Hugh Masekela, the trumpeter, composer and anti-apartheid activist known as the "father of South African jazz" has died at the age of 78 in Johannesburg.

A statement by released by his family Tuesday said Masekela, affectionately called "Bra Hugh," passed away "after a protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer." He announced last October that he was being treated for the disease, which was first diagnosed in 2008.

"It is with heavy heart that I share that my father, Hugh Ramapolo Masekela, has hung up his horn after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was able to do so both at peace and surrounded by family in Johannesburg, South Africa. It is difficult to comprehend that this moment is real. To me, my father has always been both ageless and immortal," Selema "Sal" Masekela said in a statement emailed to VOA.

Masekela's five-decade career began in earnest in the 1950s, when he helped create the Johannesburg jazz scene as a member of the bebop sextet Jazz Epistles, but fled South Africa in the 1960s to spend the next three decades in exile.

He befriended American singer and activist Harry Belafonte, and he increasingly used his music to protest the indignities and repression of white-minority rule in his homeland. Among his better known protest tunes were "Soweto Blues," and "Bring Him Back Home," an anthem demanding the release of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela from prison.

Masekela scored an international number-one hit in 1968 with the breezy tune "Grazing in the Grass." He later collaborated with American pop star Paul Simon in the 1980s. He was briefly married in the 1960s to Miriam Makeba, the legendary South African singer and activist.

South African President Jacob Zuma praised Masekela in a statement Tuesday, saying he "kept the torch of freedom alive" through his music, and that "his contribution to the struggle for liberation will never be forgotten."

Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa wrote on Twitter that "Bra Hugh was one of the great architects of Afro-Jazz and he uplifted the soul of our nation through his timeless music."