The Shuffle: Remembering Hugh Masekela’s Billboard charting hit, “Grazing in the Grass”

In loving memory of the South African Jazz legend

The world lost a music icon when South African jazz legend, Hugh Masekela, passed away on the 23rd of January, 2018. His knack for infusing his music with political commentary made for timeless and compelling songs fans are sure to revisit as we approach the 2nd anniversary of his passing.

Hugh Masekela began playing the horn at 14 and became an integral part of the 1950’s jazz scene in Johannesburg before moving to the UK and America to study trumpet. He started recording music in 1962 but wouldn’t join the Uni label that pushed him to stardom till 1967, when he started performing orchestras in America. While abroad, he remained dedicated to raising awareness on the oppressive apartheid rule in South Africa and was rewarded with international acclaim when he scored a number one hit, “Grazing in the Grass”, on the Billboard charts in 1968.

Though he often describes the song as a throwaway, recorded to complete the album, the international exposure from the song made him into a legend mentioned in the same breath as Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding. Easy-listening jazz instrumental songs were still considered a commercial force in the 60s, but he could never repeat his Billboard success despite the popular opinion that the sprightly and energetic horn riff on “Grazing in the Grass” is far from his most impressive work.

Hugh Masekela has remained popular in the international jazz community and in Africa thanks to his anti-apartheid anthems, “Soweto Blues” and “Bring Him Back Home”, written for Mandela. He had an accomplished career and when he lost his life to cancer at 78, he was remembered for a whole lot more than just scoring a number one hit song on the Billboards.

Stream “Grazing in the Grass” below.

Featured Image Credits: YouTube/Marc Leroy
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