Arguably South Africa’s most distinguished musician, Hugh Masekela received his first trumpet at the age of fourteen from veteran anti-apartheid campaigner, Father Trevor Huddleston. The budding trumpeter played in the Huddleston Jazz Band. Together with Jonas Gwangwa, he then joined The Merry Makers of Springs. From there he joined Alfred Herbert’s African Jazz Revue and played as a session musician. With Gwangwa he played for Jazz Dazzlers, then the Jazz Epistles, a band that also featured Abdullah Ibrahim, Kippie Moeketsi and Makaya Ntshoko. Masekela also played in the orchestra of the musical King Kong.
In 1960, Masekela left South Africa for the USA. He was assisted by Harry Belafonte, Miriam Makeba and Dizzy Gillespie and studied at the Guildhall School of Music and at the Manhattan School of Music. During the 1960s, he recorded for the MGM, Mercury & Verve labels, and set up his own label, Chissa, in California. In 1968, his song “Grazing in the Grass” topped the charts in the USA (it has sold over 4 million copies to date). He also sold out at Carnegie Hall and many other top American venues.
After going into exile, Masekela collaborated with a host of top musicians. These included Monk Montgomery & The Crusaders (early 1970s), Fela Kuti & Africa (1970), Herb Albert (late 1970s), and homeboys Dudu Pukwana and Ntshoko (on his album “Home Is Where The Music Is"). He also featured on albums by artists as diverse as The Byrds (1967), Lamont Dozier (1977), Randy Crawford (1980), Eric Gale (1981), Aswad (1986) and Manu Dibango (1987).
In the 1970s, he lived in Guinea and teamed up with the Ghanaian band Hedzollah Zoundz and recorded with them in California and Africa (with guests The Crusaders). In the 1980s, he spent time in Zimbabwe and Botswana, where he recorded with The Kalahari Band. In the mid-1980s, he played a prominent part in Paul Simon’s Graceland Tour. Following the political changes in South Africa, he returned home and continues to perform nationally and internationally to great acclaim.