Celebrated jazz and opera singer, Sibongile Khumalo, passed away on Thursday, 28 January, after a lengthy period of illness. Reflecting on his relationship with Ma Khumalo, Managing Director of Sony Music Entertainment Africa, Sean Watson, shared his thoughts on the late musician: “A more noble ambassador of music I have never met in my time. Sis’ Sibongile was the consummate musician and her love of her art shone through her work and her person. She was professional at every turn and resolute in protecting her creative values. We will miss her gracious presence.”
Dr. Lindelani Mkhize expressed his deep sadness at the passing of the jazz veteran, “This is very sad. Sibongile was one of the first artists that we signed to Sony Music and at that time she was an opera singer. I convinced her to do jazz, and jazz was not selling at that time. We were told at the time that we would never sell 5000 units, but her album, Ancient Evening, went on to sell Gold and was the very first Jazz album in SA to do so. She revived Jazz music in the market.”
Sibongile’s former manager, Lazarus Serobe shared his own recollection of the globally revered singer, “My memories of Sibongile start from 1995 when myself and Lindelani signed her to Sony Music. I have worked and travelled with her for many years and she was always a pleasure to work with, a consummate professional. She was a woman of principal and only did something if she felt it was right. Nelson Mandela called her the Nightingale of South Africa and was honoured whenever he was serenaded by her.”
Born in 1957 in Soweto, Sibongile started her musical journey at the tender age of eight, she then became a music teacher who dreamt of becoming an opera singer. She rose to fame after winning the Standard Bank Young Artist Award at the Grahamstown Arts Festival in 1993. She has performed on local and international stages including former President Nelson Mandela’s 75th birthday and 1994 inauguration, “The 3 Faces of Sibongile Khumalo” performance in 1992, performances with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1994 and 1995, Handel’s Messiah with Lord Yehudi Menuhin in 1995 as well as leading the South African and New Zealand national anthems during the World Cup Rugby Final in 1995.
The First Lady of Song, as termed by Nelson Mandela, holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in music from the University of Zululand, a BA Honours from the University of the Witwatersrand and honorary doctorates by the University of South Africa and the University of Zulu-Land.
Khumalo was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver by the presidency for her “excellent contribution to the development of SA art and culture in the musical fields of jazz and opera” by former President Thabo Mbeki.
Condolence messages have poured in from many on social media including the Steve Biko Foundation: “Ms Khumalo’s warmth and generosity of spirit were matched only by the immense talent she demonstrated and the glorious voice that lifted our national spirits on so many occasions.”