Passing of Hugh Masekela
Dear Howard University Community,
I wish to express my deep condolences regarding the passing of jazz legend and anti-apartheid activist, Hugh Masekela on Tuesday, January 23, 2018. A groundbreaking trumpeter, singer, and social activist, Hugh Ramopolo Masekela was born on April 4, 1939, in the town of Witbank, South Africa. A world-renowned trumpeter, composer, and singer, he was well known for his jazz compositions, as well as his vocal role as an advocate of equal rights in South Africa. His compositions, including well known anti-apartheid songs such as Bring Him Back Home, Soweto Blues, and Stimela (The Coal Train) helped make him one of the key musical voices of the anti-apartheid movement.
Masekela started playing the trumpet at age 14, having received his first instrument from Father Trevor Huddleston, a leading advocate of equal rights in South Africa. He then played as a member of the Huddleston Jazz Band. Later, Masekela became a co-founder of the now legendary South African group, the Jazz Epistles. By age 21, he left South Africa in what became a 30 year exile from his homeland. Upon arriving in New York, he enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music, and was a part of the dynamic jazz culture including John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus, Max Roach, and Miles Davis. Mentored by Dizzy Gillespie, and Louis Armstrong, he was encouraged to integrate his African musical influences, thus developing his own unique style.
In the late 60s, he moved to Los Angeles and performed alongside Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, the Who, and Jimi Hendrix. In 1968, his instrumental single 'Grazin' in the Grass' became the number one song on the American pop charts, and also became popular internationally, elevating him onto the world stage.
As the international outrage against the apartheid policies of the South African government heightened in the 1980s, he worked with a number of expatriate musicians, and also collaborated with musicians across sub-Saharan Africa, constantly expanding his style, while integrating a variety of musical traditions.
In 1986, Mr. Masekela founded the Botswana International School of Music, a nonprofit organization aimed at educating young African musicians. The next year, he played with Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the “Graceland” tour, which was not allowed in South Africa but made stops in nearby countries. On that tour, Mr. Masekela often performed “Mandela (Bring Him Back Home),” a hit song demanding justice for Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned on Robben Island at the time. In 2010, South African President Jacob Zuma accorded him the highest order in South Africa: The Order of Ikhamanga,
Mr. Masekela performed on several occasions at Howard University highlighted in 2014, when he was featured as a part of a semester long tribute to the life and lessons of Nelson Mandela, and also served as Artist-in-Residence at Howard University.
On behalf of Howard University, I wish to express our deep condolences to Mr. Masekela’s family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this time.
Excellence in Truth and Service,
Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA