2019 American Music Awards

Google Doodle Celebrates South African Trumpeter Hugh Masekela's 80th Birthday

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Courtesy of Google
A Google doodle to celebrate Hugh Masekela's 80th birthday.

The latest Google Doodle features a colorful illustration of South African musician Hugh Masekela today (April 4), celebrating his 80th birthday.

The trumpeter, singer, composer and human rights advocate passed away last year after battling prostate cancer, but his legacy lives on as a pioneer of jazz music. Born in the coal-mining town of Witbank, South Africa in 1939, Masekela began playing the trumpet at age 14. He played with the Jazz Epistles -- who were the first "all-black jazz band to record an album in South African history" -- in the beginning of his career. However, a year into their career they were forced to dismantle and leave the country due to the apartheid government in 1960.

Masekela migrated from the UK to the US, and at 21 enrolled in the Manhattan School of Music. He became a staple in the city’s jazz scene and studied some of the greats first-hand, including Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus and Max Roach. With inspiration from them and his own South African background, he created his 1963 debut album, Trumpet Africaine.

He went on to collaborate with a number of musicians throughout his career, such as Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.

Masekela performed in the 1966 Watts Festival in Los Angeles, one year after the riots that took place there, to celebrate black heritage and culture. He also composed “Bring Him Back Home” in 1988, a call for Nelson Mandela’s freedom that later became an international anthem for the anti-apartheid movement.

Often called the “Father of South African Jazz,” he returned to his country in 1990 after Mandela was freed.

In an interview with the Vancouver Sun newspaper in 2011, he talked about how his music and activism naturally entwined due to his divisive heritage. “People think I use music as a form of activism, but the truth is I come from a very activist society,” he said. “It would have been awkward if I had the world’s attention and spoke about flowers.”


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