Hugh Masekela

Celebrated trumpeter and anti-Apartheid activist Hugh Masekela spread his passion for South African music throughout the world.

Born in 1939 in Witbank, a small town outside Johannesburg, Masekela developed a love for music at a young age. He sang and played the piano as a boy and picked up the trumpet at age fourteen.

Masekela was encouraged by Father Trevor Huddleston, an Apartheid activist and his mentor, to focus on his trumpeting and pursue a career in music. Masekela was a natural and toured with South Africa’s first youth orchestra, the Huddleston Jazz Band.

Influenced by Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Miles Davis, Masekela created his own blend of jazz mixed with traditional South African melodies. His music was heavily influenced by life under Apartheid rule, drawing inspiration from both his rich culture and the difficult era of political turmoil and segregation.

In 1961, after the devastating Sharpeville Massacre, Masekela left South Africa to pursue his music career abroad. Going into self-inflicted exile, he left the country to study in London and then New York at the Manhattan School of Music.

Masekela soared in the American music scene and became one of the first African artist’s to hit a number one single with his 1968 hit Grazin’ in the Grass. His unique style and mastery of the trumpet landed him world success.

His 1987 hit song Bring Him Back Home captured the changing political spirit of South Africa and became an anthem for Nelson Mandela’s release. After being in exile for 30 years, Masekela returned home at the end of Apartheid in 1990.

Though away from South Africa for 30 years, Masekela never lost touch with his roots, promoting his country’s music as a master of African Jazz.

Masekela died in Johannesburg in January 2018.