#RIPJohnnyClegg: artist, anthropologist and activist

Published Jul 16, 2019


Cape Town - Legendary South African singer Johnny Clegg died on Tuesday afternoon at the age 66.

Clegg, who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015, died at his family home in Johannesburg.

He achieved fame with bands Juluka and Savuka and songs like Scatterlings of Africa and Great Heart made him a global star.  

"Johnny leaves deep footprints in the hearts of every person that considers him/herself to be an African. He showed us what it was to assimilate to and embrace other cultures without losing your identity. An anthropologist that used his music to speak to every person. With his unique style of music he traversed cultural barriers like few others. In many of us he awakened awareness," said a statement released by Roddy Quin, manager, friend and family spokesman.

Johnny Clegg performs at the Durban World Music Festival. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency/ANA

Clegg was born on 7 June 1953 in Bacup, Lancashire, England and moved to Johannesburg with his Rhodesian mother when he was six.

"His exposure to Zulu migrant workers during adolescence introduced him to the culture and music," Quin said. "His involvement with black musicians often saw him arrested during Apartheid."  

At the age of 17, together with Sipho Mchunu, he formed their first band called Juluka. And at the age of 33, in 1986, during the height of Apartheid, he partnered with Dudu Zulu to form his second inter-racial band called Savuka. 

Clegg also recorded several solo albums and enjoyed international success selling out concerts wherever he performed. 

"Johnny was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015 but despite fighting cancer continued to tour and perform around the world to pay homage to his fans worldwide," Quin added.

Apart from lecturing at the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Natal respectively, Clegg studied anthropology and combined his studies with music. 

He was recognised and awarded by a number of local and international bodies for his contribution to music and society, notably by the French government in 1991 with a Knight of Arts and Letters, and in 2015 he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.  

In 2012 he received the Order of Ikhamanga from the South African government. 

He was also awarded a number of Honorary doctorates by the Universities of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa), Dartmouth College in the USA and the City University of New York. 

He authored and published the book "UkuBuyisa Isidumbu" (1981, Ravan Press), and presented papers on "The Music of Zulu Immigrant Workers in Johannesburg" in 1981 at the Grahamstown International Library of African Music and "Towards an understanding of African Dance: The Zulu Isishameni Style" in 1982 at Rhodes University. 

Johnny Clegg performing at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town. Picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency/ANA

"His passing has left us numb and we request that the family's privacy be respected during this trying time," Quin said. 

Clegg is survived by his wife of 31 years, Jenny, and their two sons Jesse and Jaron.

African News Agency/ANA

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