South Africa’s First Lady of Song

When Sibongile Khumalo was a little girl she would tag along with her father, the renowned Professor of Music Khabi Mngoma, who had gone from school music teacher to being a distinguished composer and champion of the Zulu musical heritage.

Born in Soweto, she grew up listening to her father’s choirs perform, being around jazz stars such as the great Kippie Moeketsi and listening to her father’s vast gramophone record library.

Ma’Mngoma, as she was known, began her own musical journey at the age of eight when she was tutored under the legendary Emily Motsieloa of the Blackbirds to sing, dance, and play the violin.

After graduating from the University of the Witwatersrand she followed in her father’s footsteps to become a music teacher.

Her nephew Bandile Mngoma said Ma’Mngoma was truly launched into the limelight when she won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award at the Grahamstown Arts Festival in 1993.

By then she had developed into an extraordinarily versatile singer who was equally at home singing opera, jazz or traditional music.

She was classically trained but such was her range that people argued over which category to slot her into. Not only could she could belt out jazz melodies but she found herself drawn to the complexity of Pedi sounds.

Nelson Mandela called her the First Lady of Song.

One of her highlights was singing at the concert for Mandela’s 75th birthday. And she will always be remembered for singing the New Zealand and South African national anthems at the 1995 World Cup rugby final.

Khumalo was honoured by Rhodes University by being awarded a Doctor of Music and she has also been awarded honorary doctorates by the University of South Africa and the University of Zululand.

While launching chart-topping hits such as Mayihlome and Thula Mama she continued with her opera and concert work.

What’s important is that for decades, Ma’Mngoma entertained and changed many people’s lives through her music.

Two years ago she became ill and performed for the last time on 30 August 2019.

Bandile said her health got worse last year when she suffered multiple strokes.
She died on Thursday, January 28 2021, after suffering a stroke. Her family said the death was not Covid related.
“She will be missed by all who had the privilege of experiencing her music, her friendship and her love,” Bandile said.

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