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Hugh Masekela Biography
Hugh Ramapolo Masekela was born in the township of KwaGuqa in Witbank (now called Emalahleni), South Africa, to Thomas Selena Masekela, who was a health inspector and sculptor and his wife, Pauline Bowers Masekela, a social worker. His younger sister Barbara Masekela is a poet, educator and ANC activist. As a child, he began singing and playing piano and was largely raised by his grandmother, who ran an illegal bar for miners. At the age of 14, after seeing the 1950 film Young Man with a Horn (in which Kirk Douglas plays a character modelled on American jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke), Masekela took up playing the trumpet. His first trumpet was bought for him from a local music store by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, the anti-apartheid chaplain at St. Peter’s Secondary School now known as St. Martin’s School (Rosettenville.
Huddleston asked the leader of the then Johannesburg “Native” Municipal Brass Band, Uncle Sauda, to teach Masekela the rudiments of trumpet playing. Masekela quickly mastered the instrument. Soon, some of his schoolmates also became interested in playing instruments, leading to the formation of the Huddleston Jazz Band, South Africa’s first youth orchestra.
Following the 21 March 1960 Sharpeville massacre—where 69 protestors were shot dead in Sharpeville, and the South African government banned gatherings of ten or more people—and the increased brutality of the Apartheid state, Masekela left the country. He was helped by Trevor Huddleston and international friends such as Yehudi Menuhin and John Dankworth, who got him admitted into London’s Guildhall School of Music in 1960. During that period, Masekela visited the United States, where he was befriended by Harry Belafonte. After securing a scholarship back in London, Masekela moved to the United States to attend the Manhattan School of Music in New York, where he studied classical trumpet from 1960 to 1964. In 1964, Miriam Makeba and Masekela were married, divorcing two years later.
He had hits in the US with the pop jazz tunes “Up, Up and Away” (1967) and the number-one smash “Grazing in the Grass” (1968), which sold four million copies. He also appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and was subsequently featured in the film Monterey Pop by D. A. Pennebaker and mentioned in the song Monterey by Eric Burdon & the Animals. In 1974, Masekela and friend Stewart Levine organised the Zaire 74 music festival in Kinshasa set around the Rumble in the Jungle boxing match.
He played primarily in jazz ensembles, with guest appearances on recordings by the Byrds (“So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “Lady Friend”) and Paul Simon (“Further to Fly”). In 1984, Masekela released the album Techno Bush; from that album, a single entitled “Don’t Go Lose It Baby” peaked at number two for two weeks on the dance charts. In 1987, he had a hit single with “Bring Him Back Home”. The song became enormously popular, and turned into an unofficial anthem of the anti-apartheid movement and an anthem for the movement to free Nelson Mandela.
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