Jazz legend Sibongile Khumalo has died

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Legendary classical and jazz singer Sibongile Khumalo died on Thursday, January 28, after suffering a stroke. She was 63.

Family spokesperson Bandile Mngoma confirmed her death in an interview with the SABC.

“She had not been well and had been in and out of hospital. She suffered complications from a stroke. We had not been able to see her in hospital due to Covid-19 protocols and it has been hard. Her death is not Covid related. She suffered a stroke.”

Mngoma said Khumalo was a confidante to many of her friends and family members but also had a lighter, fun side to her when she was among the people she loved.

“She was proud of her culture. To us she was a gogo we consulted and confided in. She was a lady of music but at home, she was a mean cook, a story teller. She had stories for days, a hearty laugh and a wicked sense of humour.”

“What a lot of people don’t know is that she played the violin and played it very well. She understood music well – beyond just lyrics. She was very strong on indigenous music,” family friend Kutlwano Masote told the SABC.

Often referred to as the “First Lady of Song”, Khumalo’s music journey started at age eight, where she studied the violin, singing, drama and dance under Emily Motsieloa.

Growing up, she was exposed to music of heavyweights like Letta Mbulu, Miriam Makeba, Roberta Flack, Jimmy Hendricks, Carly Simon and Janis Joplin, among others.

By 14, she was determined to fulfil her dream of becoming an opera singer despite there being no opportunities for black people in SA. She ended up studying her Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in music from the University of Zululand and pursued a career teaching music.

The Soweto-born icon obtained her BA Honours from the University of Witwatersrand and was also awarded honorary doctorates from the University of South Africa as well as the University of Zululand.

In 1993, she walked away with the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music honours. She also bagged four South African Music Awards for her light music and jazz recordings and three FNB Vita Awards for her opera and concert work.

According to The College Music Society, her most notable performances were: The 3 Faces of Sibongile Khumalo (Kippies, Johannesburg 1992); Sibongile Khumalo in Concert (Grahamstown Festival, Market Theatre – Johannesburg, and Baxter Theatre – Cape Town 1993); performances with the London Philharmonic Orchestra (Johannesburg and Cape Town 1994 and 1995); the Brahms Alto Rhapsody (Johannesburg City Hall 1994 and Durban City Hall 1996); Sisters in Synch with Aviva Pelham (Civic Theatre – Johannesburg and Grahamstown Festival 1994); Rhythms of Africa with the National Symphony Orchestra (Sun City, Durban and Johannesburg 1994); Handel’s Messiah with Lord Yehudi Menuhin (Cape Town and Johannesburg 1995); Sibongile Khumalo and Friends (Johannesburg 1995).

Her career highlights include performing at Nelson Mandela’s 75th birthday as well as at the historic 1995 World Cup Rugby final.

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