PRETORIA, South Africa (CelebrityAccess) — Joseph Shabalala, the Grammy Award-winning former leader and founder of the South African vocal harmony group Ladysmith Black Mambazo died on Tuesday. He was 78.
A statement from the band said that he died in a hospital in Pretoria but no cause of death was announced.
“Our Founder, our Teacher and most importantly, our Father left us today for eternal peace,” the choir said on social media. “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.” South African president Cyril Ramaphosa called him a “veteran choral maestro”.
Joseph Shabalala began his career as a singer in the 1950s, performing with the Durban Choir and the Highlanders before he formed Ezimnyama, which would later become Ladysmith Black Mambazo in 1959.
According to the group, the name comes from their hometown of Ladysmith, as well as the color of the local livestock and mambazo, the Zulu word for axe, which described the sharpness of the group’s talent.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo first gained widespread recognition in South Africa following the release of the 1973 debut album but were introduced to international audiences in 1986 when they partnered with Paul Simon for his seminal album “Graceland,” co-writing the song Homeless – its melody based on a Zulu wedding song – and singing the backing to Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.
Over the years, they also collaborated with other western artists, including Dolly Parton, Josh Groban, Emmylou Harris among others. In 1993, Ladysmith Black Mambazo accompanied Nelson Mandela to his Nobel peace prize ceremony in Oslo.
While Shabalala retired from Ladysmith Black Mambazo in 2014, it continues to be a family affair with four of his sons continuing to perform with the group.
Shabalala was preceded in death by his wife Nellie, a church pastor who had her own group, Women of Mambazo, but was shot and killed in an attack in Duban. Joseph was injured in the attack as he pursued the gunman, Mboneni Mdunge, who was later convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
After news of his passing broke, the South Africa government released a statement in Xhosas: “Ulale ngoxolo Tata ugqatso lwakho ulufezile” (Rest in peace, father, your race is complete).