Founder of South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo dies

FILE PHOTO: Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo addresses a news conference at the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The founder of South Africa's male acapella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Joseph Shabalala, has died in hospital at the age of 78, the government and national broadcaster SABC said on Tuesday.

The Grammy Award-winning group provided back-up harmonies to Paul Simon's 1986 Graceland album, introducing their African indigenous music to a global audience with the song "Homeless".

Over their long career they also worked with musicians Stevie Wonder and Dolly Parton, among others.

"It is so sad to learn of the passing of an icon ... I'm Zimbabwean and I grew up listening to Ladysmith Black Mambazo," said Prosper Tsvanhu, who remembered his grandfather having the group's vinyl records.

Another passerby in the streets of Johannesburg's Sandton business district described Shabalala's death as a big loss to South Africa.

"He was a legend and I think the legacy of his music will continue," said Tshepo Kekane.

Shabalala founded the prolific group in the small town of Ladysmith along the east coast of South Africa in the 1960s, at the height of white minority apartheid rule.

According to the group's website, the "Black" in their name was a reference to strong oxen and Shabalala's early life on a farm, while the word "Mambazo" is the Zulu word for a chopping axe, a symbol of the group's vocal power.

Band manager Xolani Majozi told national broadcaster SABC that Shabalala had been ill since December when he was hospitalised.

"We would like to extend our condolences on the passing of Joseph Shabalala who was the founder of the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo," the government's official twitter feed said.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf and Shafiek Tassiem, Editing by William Maclean)