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South African Singer Sathima Bea Benjamin Dies at 76

Wife of Abdullah Ibrahim, Benjamin was admired by Ellington, others

Sathima Bea Benjamin

South African vocalist and composer Sathima Bea Benjamin died Aug. 20 in Cape Town, according to a report from the South African Broadcasting Corporation and other African news agencies. The wife of pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, Benjamin was 76 and had been based in New York City for nearly 45 years, until returning to her homeland in 2011. The cause of death was not reported but reports said that her death occurred suddenly.

Born Beatrice Benjamin in Johannesburg Oct. 17, 1936 and raised in Cape Town, Benjamin began singing at local talent shows during her childhood and turned professional in her teens, influenced by popular American jazz vocalists. At age 21, Benjamin went on the road with Arthur Klugman’s traveling show, Colored Jazz and Variety. She returned to Cape Town in 1959, met Ibrahim (then known as Dollar Brand) in 1960 and together they left South Africa for Switzerland, in order to escape apartheid. Duke Ellington became a fan of both artists upon hearing them in Zurich and arranged for them to record in Paris-Brand’s session was released but Benjamin’s was not and the tapes were assumed lost until 1996, when released as A Morning in Paris by the Enja label. Brand, Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and South African musicians Johnny Gertze (bass) and Makhaya Ntshoko (drums) contributed to the recording.

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