1999 • Performing and Recording Award

>> Back to 1999 Awards


The first ever recording of jazz singer, Sathima Bea Benjamin was a momentous occasion.  It was in 1963 that jazz history was made when Duke Ellington accompanied the young Sathima to a recording session in Paris.

Despite the interest in and excitement surrounding this occasion, the tapes of the session were inexplicably lost and it was only thirty-three years later that a duplicate tape was found, and subsequently released as “One Morning in Paris”.  What made this recording so special was that Duke Ellington played the role of supporting artist to a virtually unknown singer. 

Thanks to the finding of the “lost tapes” Sathima and Duke celebrated with a concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall and the subsequent release of the CD.  In the intervening years, Duke Ellington had nurtured the careers of both Sathima and her husband (Abdullah Ibrahim) and was a close personal friend throughout their musical lives. 

It was in 1977 that Sathima and her family left South Africa in self-exile to settle in New York.  Through her contacts at the ANC office there she was given the opportunity to become a cultural ambassador. 

One of her first projects was to start the Secacha Pioneers where young members of the ANC met each Saturday afternoon to sing freedom songs and discuss the situation in South Africa. 

Sathima’s family home in New York during the years of apartheid was a magnet for students, dignitaries and exiles – all of whom shared her warmth and her laughter 
Sathima was involved in concerts and presentations for three Women’s Day celebrations and she has given numerous talks at the United Nations and other venues, such as Artists Against Apartheid.  She was also sent as an ANC representative to a conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil and was asked to sing at the funeral of Dulcie September in Paris. 
Sathima has sang at many fund raising concerts in New York and Europe on behalf of the ANC, and she actively promoted awareness of the struggles people were faced with in South Africa at that time. 

In 1983, Sathima wrote “The Liberation Suite” – a three movement composition with its roots firmly in African soil.  This suite was conceived as a result of the family’s friendship with Johnny Makhatinin of the New York ANC office and her own views of the apartheid regime in her home country.  She followed that with the writing of “Windsong” which is dedicated to the mothers and daughters of the struggle. 

Sathima has absolutely no regrets in life and she has grabbed every possible opportunity presented to her.  Her greatest loves, however, are her husband and two children who are the primary focus in everything she has done. 

With her capacity for educating the world about South Africa through words and song, she has been an ambassador for the land of her birth - truly a voice of Africa.