Given the mellow nature of his career-defining hit, an instrumental version of “Grazing in the Grass” that topped the Pop and R&B charts in 1968, it was easy to take Hugh Masekela for granted. But for a very long time, he was the most famous musician from South Africa on the world stage and one of the most famous people. And he kept his country’s issues on the minds of anyone who would listen and walked the line between entertainer, artist and citizen of conscience better than a lot of others who were far more prone to making a big deal of never letting you forget how hard they were working at all three.
He was probably best known as a trumpeter, but he played several other instruments just as well, besides being an affecting (if occasional) vocalist, a formidable bandleader….
Of course, for a lot of rock and rollers, his signature moment is probably his indelible trumpet playing on the Byrds’ “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.” There’s no shame in thinking so…as signatures go, few musicians ever left a finer one.
He died of cancer last week at 78, in Johannesburg. If there’s any cosmic justice he’s in that place where no one’s lying to the races, blowing up a storm.