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Remembering Hugh Masekela, master musician who fought for South African freedom

Over the course of his six-decade career, Hugh Masekela’s jazz and anti-apartheid activism made him a beloved international figure. In exile, he used his music as a form of activism to call for Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and freedom in South Africa. Masekela died Tuesday in Johannesburg at 78 years old.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally tonight- remembering the legacy of Hugh Masekela, a major figure in world music and jazz who became well known for his activism and battle against apartheid in South Africa.

    Jeffrey Brown is back with this appreciation of his life.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    He was first and foremost a master musician.

    Trumpet player and singer Hugh Masekela honed his distinctive Afro-jazz sound across a career that spanned more than six decades.

    He began playing in the 1950s as a youngster growing up near Johannesburg, forming a jazz band in school and then a top bebop group, the Jazz Epistles. His international fame grew as he paired his music and voice with his activism on behalf of the anti-apartheid struggle.

    Growing violence and turmoil had led Masekela to leave South Africa in 1960 for exile in England and then the U.S., where he continued to reach a larger audience, appearing with the likes of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix at the famous 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.

    The following year, he scored a number one hit with "Grazing in the Grass," performed here much later at the 2010 World Cup.

    In 1987, Masekela joined Paul Simon and the South African musicians Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the Graceland tour, continuing to rouse international crowds to the cause of South Africa freedom with songs like "Bring Him Back Home," calling for Nelson Mandela's release from prison.

  • Hugh Masekela:

    There was a great anti-apartheid community internationally that was very obsessed and, like, united by their hatred of apartheid. So, to a certain extent, I was overseas physically, but I think, spiritually, I never left.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    When Mandela finally was released in 1990, Masekela moved back to South Africa for good. He continued to record and perform into his 70s, even after a 2008 diagnosis of prostate cancer. He spoke about it in this 2011 interview.

  • Hugh Masekela:

    I am a musician. I love music. I have loved music since I was a child. And I try to collaborate as much as I can with as many people as I can.

    When I look at the time that I have left all of a sudden, I have to hurry up and do a lot of things. But I have never had a greater time.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Hugh Masekela died today in Johannesburg. He was 78 years old.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What great music, and what a legacy.

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