Jean Grae - Rap Star Jean Grae's Jazz Singer Mum Dies

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Rapper Jean Grae is mourning the death of her mother, South African jazz star Sathima Bea Benjamin.

The singer and anti-apartheid activist passed away at her home in Cape Town on 20 August (13) at the age of 76.

Benjamin, real name Beatrice Bertha Benjamin, enjoyed a career spanning over 50 years, but only rose to fame after leaving her homeland and moving to Europe with her husband, acclaimed pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, in 1962.

Known for her mezzo-soprano-style vocals, Benjamin caught the attention of the legendary Duke Ellington during a 1963 gig in Zurich, Switzerland and convinced him to hear her husband's band, the Dollar Brand Trio at a nearby club. He liked what he heard and offered to record the group in Paris, France, taking Benjamin under his wing too by producing her album A Morning in Paris.

Her project was shelved, but she went on to appear with Ellington's orchestra at the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island, America and later recorded a string of albums, including 1976's African Songbird, on which she tackled the topics of politics and segregation in South Africa.

She spent more than 20 years living in New York before relocating back to Cape Town in 2011, the year of her divorce from Ibrahim.

Benjamin's death occurred just two weeks after she received a lifetime achievement award at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz festival in Johannesburg.

A cause of death has yet to be released.


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