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Who Is Hugh Masekela? Google Doodle Honors the Jazz Legend and Anti-Apartheid Activist

Hugh Masekela may not be a household name these days, but the South African musician blazed a path for musicians in South Africa and was a core part of the New York jazz scene in the 1960s.

Google is celebrating Masekela on what would have been his 80th birthday by honoring him in Thursday’s Google Doodle. Masekela died last January after a 10-year battle with prostate cancer.

A trumpet player since the age of 14, Masekela’s band—Jazz Epistles—was the first all-black jazz band to record an album in South Africa, where he was born. As the apartheid government rose to power, the musicians fled the country, eventually leading him to America.

He intensified his musical studies in Manhattan and quickly became a part of the New York jazz scene, playing with artists including John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. In 1962, he was a big enough name that he recorded a solo album, entitled Trumpet Africaine.

That led to bigger fame, including a gig at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and a Number One hit in the U.S. the following year, Grazing in the Grass.

Beyond his musical talents, though, Masekela was a driving force in the anti-apartheid movement, spreading awareness and using his music to make people more aware of the plight of Nelson Mandela.

His persistence, of course, paid off. And he was there when Mandela was released in 1990.