Hugh Masekela

Voice of Africa

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Hugh Masekela performs “Thanayi.”

As a boy growing up in Kwa-Guqa Township, in Witbank South Africa Hugh Masekela sang and played piano before picking up the trumpet when he was fourteen inspired by the film “Young Man with a Horn.”

His first horn was provided by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, a chaplain at the St. Peter’s Secondary School who arranged for him to take lessons from Uncle Sauda who was then leader of the Johannesburg “Native” Municipal Brass Band.

Masekela formed South Africa’s first youth orchestra the “Huddleston Jazz Band” before joining Alfred Herbert’s “African Jazz Revue” in 1956.

He made history in 1959 as a member of Africa’s first jazz group the “Jazz Epistles” featuring Dollar Brand, Kippie Moeketsi, Makhaya Ntshoko, and Johnny Gertze.

Playing for large audiences in Cape Town and Johannesburg from late 1959 to early 1960, they were the first African jazz group to release an album.

That year with the brutality of Apartheid rule in South Africa on the rise, Hugh was helped by friends to flee to America.

During an extended visit to the U.S. he attended the Manhattan School of Music
for four years beginning in 1960 where he studied classical trumpet.

Later in the decade, Hugh Masekela enjoyed a number of American pop-jazz hits, the most successful of which was 1968’s “Grazing in the Grass.”


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