Songbirds Abigail Kubeka, Thandi Klaasen and Dorothy Masuka in this 2013 photo. Klaasen passed away yesterday.
SHE was brave. She died with the same dignity she had lived her life. This was how the daughter of legendary jazz musician Thandi Klaasen, who died yesterday from pancreatic cancer at the age of 86, described her mother.
Lorraine Klaasen, also a musician, told The Star that her multi-award-winning mother died at Thelle Mogoerane Hospital in Vosloorus after being admitted on December 9.
“It was a very brief illness, we only found out about it about a month ago,” she said.
Lorraine said the family had since yesterday been inundated with calls and messages of condolences.
She recently told the Daily Sun that her mom was on the mend after suffering a stroke in 2015.
“We haven’t had a chance to deal with the loss as a family. The phones just haven’t stopped ringing,” she said, adding that details of the funeral arrangements would be communicated at a later stage.
Thandi was born in Sophiatown and started performing in the 1950s alongside other jazz legends Dolly Rathebe, Miriam Makeba and Dorothy Masuka. She also played a part in the 1960s musical
King Kong in London. When she was a teenager, a mixture of thinners and petrol was thrown at her that left her scarred for life.
In 2006, she was awarded the presidential national Order of the Baobab.
President Jacob Zuma, in a statement of condolence, described Klaasen’s death as a tragic loss for the entire nation.
“Klaasen contributed to the country not only as a musician, but also a social and political activist who was always outspoken about social-economic issues in the country. We have lost one of the leading pioneers of South African jazz music and promoters of the country’s cosmopolitan culture.
“She was a role model to many of our young and upcoming musicians, and her legacy will live on for generations to come,” Zuma said.
Klaasen earned several accolades, including lifetime achievement awards from the Standard Bank Jazz Festival and the South African Music Awards.
Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said “she touched our spirits and made us complete beings in a world in which things were falling apart”.
The ANC Women’s League called on all women in the arts industry to emulate her example
“Imbokodo, who broke the glass ceiling of a music industry which is characterised by domination of males and became an icon in African Jazz. Her career as a singer and dancer began in the mid1950s when the apartheid and patriarchal system were entrenched, but that did not deter her from pursuing her dreams,” it said in a statement.
“The ANCWL sends its deepest condolences to the family, relatives, friends and supporters of Mam Klaasen during these trying times. May her soul rest in peace,” the league said.
TODAY we pay tribute to Thandi Klaasen, a doyenne of South African jazz and blues and one of the most iconic women in music, who died yesterday at 86 after battling pancreatic cancer for a long time.
A product of 1950s Sophiatown, the place of music, dreams, tsotsis and contradictions, Klaasen was one of the most distinguished and most consistent jazz and blues singers of her era.
Her death marks the end of that era of authentic jazz and blues vocalists, and should remind us of our rich musical history and how artists of her time used their talent to keep people hopeful during the difficult years under the yoke of oppression.
Together with divas such as Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe, Dorothy Masuka and Sophie Mgcina, she was a household name during the most brutal years of apartheid South Africa, telling the stories of the people through their music. They refused to give up. Of this group, only Masuka is still alive. They are part of the rich heritage of this country, and their deaths must not remove them from the history of the struggle against white minority rule.
Thandi Klaasen was special and had the resilience of a true South African. As if the brutalities of apartheid weren’t enough, Klaasen suffered acid burns that left her face badly disfigured when she was only a teenager, and her life revolved around the stage, where she entertained her people.
Many people would have given up at that point, considering how beauty and style – not just talent – defined life in 1950s Sophiatown. But she didn’t give up on her life or her career. Instead, she proved that her voice and stage presence were the real reason she was one of the stars of her time. One of the stars of Todd Matshikiza’s musical
King Kong, Klaasen was cut out for the stage, and until her death yesterday, remained an entertainer, even at 86.
Hounded out of her country of birth by the apartheid regime, Klaasen, like others of that era, who included the legendary Drum writers and political activists, fled the country to live overseas, but her heart remained firmly back home. She knew no other life but the hustle and bustle of her Sophiatown, where many of her family and friends remained, fighting against oppression.
It’s no wonder that she was a recipient of the Order of Baobab in gold from President Jacob Zuma. It was a deserved award for a life dedicated to music and the arts and her never-ending contribution to her country.
Thandi Klaasen was a legend and her contribution to our music, heritage and freedom will never be forgotten. She deserves a befitting send-off as we celebrate her life.
Our government and the entire arts and culture sector must work together to ensure that Mum Thandi, as we called her, is afforded a funeral befitting her status as a legend. Our legend.
Our hearts are with her family, especially her beloved daughter Lorraine, at this difficult time.
Thandi Klaasen bids a tearful farewell to Ralph Rabie aka Johannes Kerkorrel at his funeral in 2002. Yesterday, she died from pancreatic cancer.