In a song that he wrote for his son Jesse in 1990, Johnny Clegg spoke of having to say goodbye someday, and sadly that time came in July 2019. The 66-year-old icon passed away at his family home in Johannesburg South Africa after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
But his legacy will live on forever, and we’ll always keep in our hearts as one of the most magnificent musicians to ever come out of South Africa!
He Wasn’t Mzanzi-Born
Clegg was actually born in Bacup, in England, in 1953, but his family immigrated to South Africa when he was seven-years-old.
A Quick Errand Changed His Outlook on Life
When Clegg was 14-years-old he was sent out to buy bread and milk. On his way to the shop, he heard what turned out to be Charlie Mzila playing traditional Zulu music on a guitar and was instantly captivated.
He went up to Mzila and asked if there was any way the musician would teach him to play what he later found out was the Maskandi style. Mzila was happy to agree and added lessons on Zulu stick-fighting, a type of traditional dance, to the mix. The pair would go on to become firm friends, eventually forming a dancing team and performing at hostels across Johannesburg.
Clegg said that Mzila had opened a whole new universe for him, and we know now that this chance meeting allowed Clegg and his bands Juluka and Savuka to do the same for the rest of the world!
Scatterlings of Africa Was a Game-Changer
Imagine getting Horse Racing tips so good they see you winning a truly life-changing amount of money. The incredible success of Scatterlings of Africa, written by Clegg and Juluka bandmate Sipho Mchunu, can be likened to that experience.
When the song crept on to the Top 50 Chart in the United Kingdom, the pair were finally able to quit their day jobs, Clegg as a lecturer at Wits University in Johannesburg and Mchunu as a gardener, and focus on their music full-time.
It even went on to feature on the soundtrack of Rain Man, the smash-hit 1988 film starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, a film which went on to win multiple awards.
He Was Big in France
Clegg amassed legions of fans in France who called him Le Zoulou Blanc which gave rise to his famous nickname, White Zulu. There was actually a point in his career where Clegg was outselling Madonna and Micheal Jackson in France!
Rumour has it that the King of Pop was actually forced to cancel one of his concerts after he found it would clash with one of Clegg’s performances.
The French government declared Johnny Clegg a Cultural Knight in 1991 and bestowed on him the honour of Knight of the Order of Arts of Letters, or Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He’s also been recognised by the South African Government, which awarded him the Order Of Ikhamanga, or Order of Silver, in 2012.