Johnny Clegg is a famous South African musician who is still as active today as he ever has been, despite turning 62 in June. The man affectionately known as the ‘White Zulu’ continues to entertain audiences the world over, and can proudly look back over a colourful career that was never short of inspiration and enthusiasm.
The charismatic guitarist and singer is known for his music as a member of crossover 1960s band, Juluka, which he formed with musician Sipho Mchunu, before his second band Savuka and a successful solo career that saw him gain fans throughout the globe.
Here we take a look at 12 things you may not know about successful South African musician, Johnny Clegg.
The popular musician is as South African as they come, but it will surprise many to note that he was actually born in Lancashire, England on June 7, 1953. He emigrated with his family when he was six months old, settling in Zimbabwe at first, before a short stint in Zambia and then finally his family moved to South Africa.
The South African musician is highly regarded in the entertainment world, and has earned a Grammy nomination for his music, alongside a Billboard award. These accolades demonstrate his musical ability, as well as the respect and popularity that he has commanded during his long career.
The South African artist was honoured with the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) on June 13, 2015. The order rewards and acknowledges individuals who have served in fields such as in the arts and public service. Clegg was honoured by Queen Elizabeth, and the official statement read: “Buckingham Palace has released the 2015 Birthday Honours list and the British High Commission is delighted to announce that South African artist, activist and philanthropist Johnny Clegg has been honoured with the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).”
The South African music icon is no doubt running out of space for all of his awards, honours and accolades. In 1991 he was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres (Knight of Arts and Letters) by the French Government and in 2012 he received the South African Presidential Ikhamanga award, which is the highest honour in the land. He was given the award by President Jacob Zuma as part of the National Orders ceremony.
Clegg remains a persistent soldier with regards to charity work and social justice, and has recently helped organisations such as the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), which works to help those with multi-drug resistant TB. “I’m working closely with the TAC and through them I learnt, to my horror, that TB is the biggest killer in our country. I recently donated R100 000 to help fight multidrug-resistant TB.”
Johnny Clegg performed in all four of Nelson Mandela’s 46664 Aids Awareness Concerts in both South Africa and in Norway, showing his support for the former South African president’s charity, and continuing his own philanthropic ways by always finding time to contribute his music to the concerts that Madiba would organise.
The first album, Third World Child, with the second bi-racial band that he formed, Savuka broke all international sales records in France, Switzerland and Belgium in 1988. He is very popular in France, where he is affectionately known as Le Zulu Blanc, which means the White Zulu. A year before that, his song “Scatterlings of Africa” earned him his only entry in the UK Singles Chart to date, reaching 75 on the charts in May 1987. The following year it was featured on the soundtrack to the 1988 Oscar winner, Rain Man.
Clegg has been in music industry for over 30 years, and at the age of 62 he has no plans of slowing down. He already has tours set up in Europe and North America for 2016, and the musician continues to cultivate a great following throughout the world with his talent and charisma. He will no doubt continue to make music and tour for some time to come.
As often happens in the music industry, Johnny Clegg’s talent and passion for music rubbed off on his son, Jesse Clegg, who has gone on to cultivate success as a rock musician on the South African music scene, receiving two SA Music Award nominations for his debut album in 2008, titled When I Wake Up. Music is certainly in his blood, as his Zimbabwean-born mother was a cabaret and jazz singer.
The musician has been the recipient of numerous honorary doctorates from universities around the world. In 2007, he received an honorary doctorate in music from WITS University in Johannesburg. Four years later Clegg received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from City University of New York School of Law. He was then awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Dartmouth College in the US in 2012, and a year later received an honorary Doctorate in Music from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, in South Africa.
His first band, Juluka was subjected to censorship and they could only play in private venues. Their response was to play at universities, church halls, migrant labour hostels and even in the lounges of private houses.
The talented musician was also academically inclined, and he studied anthropology in South Africa. He would even go on to teach anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where the work of David Webster, a social anthropologist, influenced his study and lectures on the subject.
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