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Hugh Masekela, RIP

[ by Charles Cameron — I’m not particularly a jazz buff — this is mostly about my mentor Trevor Huddleston, who was also Maasekela’s mentor ]
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Hugh Masekela, jazz trumpeter extraordinaire, is no longer with us. May he rest in peace.

I was happy to read the story of Masekela’s connection with the mentor we were both ignited by, Fr Trevor Huddleston CR, in this obit for Masekela in the Guardian:

Hugh was given his own instrument when he was 14. He was then a pupil at St Peter’s, a remarkable secondary school for black children that became a centre for opponents of apartheid before being closed by the authorities. The staff included Oliver Tambo, later leader of the ANC, and Trevor Huddleston, later Archbishop Huddleston, president of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement. The young Masekela was always in trouble. “I was one of the worst delinquents”, he once told me, “always fighting with the teachers or going into town stealing.” He was sent to see Huddleston because “you’d be sent to him when everything else had failed”.

Masekela had wanted a trumpet, he said, after seeing the 1950 film Young Man With a Horn, and recalled that he told the priest: “If I can get a trumpet I won’t bother anyone one any more.” Huddleston managed to raise £15 (“a lot of money in those days”) to buy the instrument, found a black Salvation Army trumpeter to teach Masekela, “and then he sat outside the school making hideous noises”. Other pupils naturally wanted instruments as well, and the Huddleston Jazz Band was born. They wore black trousers and grey silk shirts, and played American rather than African music. Along with Masekela, the band featured the trombonist Jonas Gwangwa, who would also become a star.

Huddleston continued to help Masekela even after the priest had left the school and South Africa. In 1956, when he was in the US publicising his book Naught for Your Comfort, he told Masekela’s story to a journalist, who suggested that it might interest Louis Armstrong, the best known trumpeter of the day. Armstrong was fascinated and handed Huddleston one of his horns to give to Masekela. “I sent it straight to South Africa, and I have a wonderful picture of Hugh jumping for joy,” said Huddleston.

It is good to see Fr Trevor so honored.

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I talked about Fr Trevor, Masekela, the Huddleston Jazz Band, and Satchmo‘s trumpet in Between the warrior and the monk (ii): Fr Trevor Huddleston, and while the photos there may be of interest —
especially the one where Satchmo is presenting Fr Trevor with the trumpet for Masekela — the video of Maasekela’s first record, Ndenzeni Na with the Huddleston Jazz Band has expired.

Happily, there’s another copy on Youtube for us to hear:

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Maselela goes to meet old and beloved friends, Trevor Huddleston among them.

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