Legendary jazz musician and anti-apartheid activist Hugh Masekela died on Tuesday at the age of 78. Masekela, also known as the father of South African jazz, passed away in Johannesburg after a “protacted and courageous battle with prostrate cancer”, his family said in a statement.
Masekela started playing the trumpet when he was 14-years-old before he became a member of the Jazz Epistles. In 1976, the musician composed Soweto Blues, which became an anthem of the anti-apartheid movement, according to Reuters. Using music in his six-decade long career, Masekela – affectionately called “Bra Hugh” – contributed to South Africa’s long battle against white-minority rule.
At the age of 21 in 1960, the singer-songwriter went into exile in the United Kingdom and the United States, where he also collaborated with international jazz legends. In 1968, he released Grazing in the Grass, which became a hit instantly. He performed in Mumbai in 2003 to mark 10 years of the end of apartheid.
His fan list included former South Africa President Nelson Mandela. Masekela, while he was living in exile, wrote Bring Him Back Home that called for the release of Mandela, who had been imprisoned by the apartheid regime. Masekela returned to South Africa in 1990 after Mandela was freed from prison.
“A loving father, brother, grandfather and friend, our hearts beat with profound loss,” the family said in the statement. “Rest in power beloved, you are forever in our hearts.”