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Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela

Biography

Born in apartheid-era South Africa in 1939, Masekela studied the piano, enjoying American jazz artists like Bessie Smith and Duke Ellington. The Bix Beiderbecke-inspired movie Young Man With a Horn convinced Masekela to take up the trumpet. Archbishop Trevor Huddleston gave him his first trumpet, and Masekela began working with dance bands including Zakes Nkosi's and Ntemi Piliso's. After the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, Masekela fled to England, where Yehudi Menuhin and others found him a place in a music school. Miriam Makeba, his former wife, then helped him make the move to New York, introducing him to Harry Belafonte and Dizzy Gillespie. Masekela made a splash in the mid-'60s, but it wasn't until 1968's Promise of a Future that he had a monster hit with "Grazing in the Grass." Though known for pop-oriented work, his trumpet-playing ranks among the best of the 20th century. (He's no slouch as a singer, either.) Masekela went on to explore Nigerian music, Afrobeat and traditional South African music, and he worked on the musical Sarafina with Mbongeni Ngema. He returned to South Africa after Nelson Mandela's release and has lived and recorded there since.
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