Who is Hugh Masekela? Google Doodle honours 'father of South African jazz'

Renowned jazz artist and activist Hugh Masekela is the subject of Google’s latest doodle, serving as a celebration of his life and legacy.

A master horn player, Masekela was known as the “father of South African jazz,” fusing politics and influences from Africa to inspire his music.

Masekela was born in 1939 in Witbank, near Johannesburg, and would grow up against the oppressive backdrop of apartheid, which implemented a system of racial segregation.

He started playing the horn aged 14 and throughout the 1950s would rise to national prominence, playing at fundraising events for the ANC, with Nelson Mandela among the attendees.

Hugh Masekela was known as the
Hugh Masekela was known as the

Already proving himself a talented musician, Masekela became a member of the jazz group the Jazz Epistles, who in 1959 recorded the first album by a South African jazz band, Jazz Epistle Verse 1.

In the same year, the group created an “all-African jazz opera” called King Kong, starring the singer Miriam Makeba.

This outward celebration of black culture proved contentious in a society of white minority rule, and in 1960 Masekela was exiled from his home country.

Wanting to spread awareness of South Africa’s apartheid system, Masekela travelled to the US, where he began to identify with the black power movement. He won the hearts of many Americans and enjoyed a number one hit with his track Grazing in the Grass.

Google celebrates the life of Hugh Masekela with one of its famous doodles (Google )
Google celebrates the life of Hugh Masekela with one of its famous doodles (Google )

After 12 years in exile he returned to Africa to explore parts of the continent he had not yet visited and in 1986, he founded the Botswana International School of Music.

After Mandela was released from prison in 1990, with the ending of apartheid, Masekela was able to return to South Africa after a 30-year absence. In 1996, he played for Mandela and the Queen during the South African president’s state visit to the UK.

After a decade long battle with cancer, Masekela passed away in Johannesburg in January 2018, survived by his son Selema and daughter Pula Twala.