HUGH MASEKELA, 78, on Jan. 23, of prostate cancer in South Africa. One of the most important names in African Jazz, he received his first trumpet at age 14, a gift from an anti-apartheid activist who also put him in the jazz band at his boarding school.
In the mid-fifties he joined Alfred Herbert’s African Jazz Review and then co-founded The Jazz Epistles featuring Abdullah Ibrahim. Together they recorded the first modern jazz record in South Africa featuring an all black band.
Maskela followed the famous South African singer, Miriam Makeba, to New York, where they were briefly married. Miles Davis advised him to pursue a style unique to his own background rather than to emulate the Americans. He took the advice and blended jazz and soul with the mbaqanga dance music he had heard growing up.
In 1968 he had a surprise hit single with “Grazing in the Grass.” In 1977 his “Soweto Blues” became an international hit as recorded by his then ex-wife Miriam Makeba. He also recorded the anti-apartheid anthem “Bring Home Nelson Mandela” in 1986. He toured with Paul Simon on his Graceland tour in 1987 and again in 2012 for the 25th anniversary of the album’s release.
He returned to South Africa in 1990, where he was considered an elder statesman of South African music. He had planned a US tour this spring before announcing his cancer diagnosis in October.