Hugh Masekela, South African jazz trumpeter, dead at 78

The pioneering musician’s death was confirmed by his family.

January 23, 2018
Hugh Masekela, South African jazz trumpeter, dead at 78 Hugh Masekela entertain guests during the CAF African Footballer of the Year Award in Lagos on January 8, 2015.   PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty

Jazz musician Hugh Masekela has died aged 78, the New York Times reports.

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Masekela was a leading figure in the anti-apartheid movement in his native South Africa and was dubbed "the father of South African jazz" by his peers. His family confirmed the news of his death in a statement. He had been suffering with prostate cancer for over a decade.

A statement said the trumpeter “passed peacefully” at home in Johannesburg. “A loving father, brother, grandfather and friend, our hearts beat with a profound loss. Hugh’s global and activist contribution to and participation in the areas of music, theater and the arts in general is contained in the minds and memories of millions across six continents,” the statement read.

Masekela spent 30 years of his life exiled from South Africa and left the country in 1960, age 21. He developed his style of jazz under the tutelage of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong as well as building close friendships with Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charles Mingus.

His 1968 instrumental single "Grazing In The Grass" gave him a No. 1 in the U.S. while his 1977 single "Soweto Blues" became synonymous with the anti-apartheid movement. Masekela returned to South Africa in 1990 following the release of Nelson Mandela, whose freedom he had campaigned for four years prior on "Bring Home Nelson Mandela."

The South African president, Jacob Zuma, said the nation would mourn a man who “kept the torch of freedom alive”.

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Hugh Masekela, South African jazz trumpeter, dead at 78