Joseph Shabalala, the founding member of the multi Grammy Award winning group Ladysmith Black Mambazo died February 11 at the age of 78 in Pretoria, South Africa.

Though formed in 1964, the group gained international recognition in 1986 when they appeared on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album.

It was Paul Simon who produced the band’s major label debut album “Shaka Zulu” which went on to earn them the first of the group’s five Grammy Awards. Previously the group recorded in South Africa.

Along with Simon; Ladysmith has performed with many artists including Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Josh Groban, and George Clinton.

Hailing from the Province of KwaZulu-Natal, Ladysmith Black Mambazo translates form the Zulu as “the black ax of Ladysmith”.

The singing group often performed in a style known as isicathamiya – a style derived from the South African Zulu Nation.

The group performed at Nelson Mandela’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and his Presidential inauguration. They performed on Broadway in “The Song of Jacob Zulu” and Shabalala collaborated with Ntozake Shange on the musical “Nomathemba”.

Joseph appeared in the “VeggieTales: The Little Drummer Boy” as a choir member, an episode of “Rugrats”, an episode of the Israeli version of “Sesame Street” “Shalom Sesame”, and as a Zulu Chief on three episodes of “Sesame Street”.

Shabalala retired from the group he formed in 2014 after 50 years of performing. He would make an occasional appearance with the group but over the past few years, he has been in and out of the hospital.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo is currently on tour but will be returning home to South Africa. The group spoke on the death of Shabalala via Twitter saying, “our founder, our teacher and most importantly our father left us today for eternal peace. We celebrate and honor your kind heart and your extraordinary life. Through your music and the millions who you came in contact with, you shall live forever.”

Bhekizizwe Joseph Siphatimandla Mxoveni Mshengu Bigboy Shabalala was born August 28, 1941 in the town of Ladysmith, South Africa to farm hands. His first experience in singing with a group was the Highlanders in Durban before returning home to Ladysmith and forming the family group Black Ones in 1960.

Shabalala is survived by his second wife, nine children, and 36 grandchildren.


feature photo credit: By Svickova – Own work, Public Domain,