Obituary: Hugh Masekela 1939–2018

The LSO is sad to hear of the death this morning of South African trumpet legend Hugh Masekela. He was 78 years old.

Masekela was known as the 'father of South African Jazz' and was closely linked with the anti-apartheid movement and the campaign to release Nelson Mandela. He is celebrated for his contribution to music, theatre and social and political activism. After being given a trumpet by a teacher in exchange for keeping out of trouble, he left South Africa at the age of 21 and did not return for 30 years. His unique style of trumpet and flugel horn playing was developed under the tutelage of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong.He topped the charts in the 1960s with Grazing in the Grass, and Soweto Blues served as an anthem for the anti-apartheid movement.

Masekela first worked with the LSO in 2007, when he appeared at the Barbican Hall in the 'Belief' series in the 2007/08 season. Masekela and his backing vocalists performed with the LSO Community Choir in a programme of liberation songs from his homeland from which he was exiled for so long. As part of the concert Masekela worked with composer Jason Yarde, an alumnus of the Panufnik Composers Scheme, who had been commissioned to write a new 10 minute work for flugel horn and orchestra. The result, All Souls Seek Joy, received its world premiere at the concert.

Hugh Masekela rehearsing with Jason Yarde and the LSO Community Choir, September 2007. Photos by Kevin Leighton.

Two years later in December 2009, Masekela returned to the LSO to celebrate his 70th birthday, again featuring the LSO Community Choir and a new work by Jason Yarde, Rude Awakening (later recorded for release on the first Panufnik Legacies CD on LSO Live). The concert was broadcast by BBC Four.

Hugh Masekela will be fondly remembered by everyone in the LSO, especially the LSO Community Choir who valued Hugh's time, expertise and great humour. We extend our sympathies to Bra Hugh's family, friends and musical famliy.

Star trumpeters Hugh Masekela, Hakan Hardenberger and the LSO's Philip Cobb and Gerry Ruddock talk about the instrument that accompanies them through their lives.