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Johnny Clegg (1953–2019), South African music legend

by Kirk Fox

His multi-racial bands performed in defiance of apartheid segregation.

Johnny Clegg was a South African music legend who performed with two popular multi-racial bands during the minority white rule apartheid era. He learned Zulu music and dancing as a teenager from street musician Charlie Mzila. Clegg co-founded the multi-racial bands Juluka and Savuka which combined Zulu, Celtic, and rock music with both bands having international success. His bands promoted racial unity and were harassed by the South African government. Later, he released popular solo albums, his most recent being “King of Time” in 2017. After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015, he embarked on a self-titled farewell tour in 2017.

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Died: Tuesday, July 16, 2019 (Who else died on July 16?)

Details of death: Died at the age of 66 from pancreatic cancer.

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When Mandela came on stage during his concert: In 1999 while performing his song “Asimbonanga,” which is about Mandela, at a concert in France, Mandela surprised Clegg and came on stage behind him smiling and dancing. Mandela told the crowd, “It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world. And at peace with myself.” He then urged the crowd to dance and walked off stage holding Clegg’s hand. Clegg said, “That was the pinnacle moment for me. It was just a complete and amazing gift from the universe.” 

What they said about him: “Asimbonanga ofana no Johnny Clegg. He has left deep footprints in our hearts. He showed us what it was to assimilate to and embrace other cultures without losing your identity.” —South African government

“This feels so personal. We grew up with you and thus, God will call His children home.” —Theodoro Manjo

“Le Zoulou Blanc (The White Zulu) has taken his bow. Asimbonanga ofana no Johnny Clegg! His heart embraced #Africa without reserve. Clegg broke the law to play with black musicians during the apartheid era, when such mingling was not only unpopular but banned.” —Jacob Zikusooka

Full obituary: Miami Herald

Birthdate: June 7, 1953 (Who else was born on June 7th?)

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