Letta Mbulu Biography

23 August 1942, Johannesburg, South Africa. Resident in the USA since 1964, vocalist Mbulu - along with fellow expatriates and musical associates Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and Caiphus Semenya (her husband and producer) - first came to prominence in South Africa in 1960, as a member of the cast of the musical King Kong. On arrival in the USA, she was still under a exclusive world contract with leading South African label Gallo which, afraid of reprisals from the Pretoria authorities, declined to offer her any new recording opportunities. For three years she continued her fruitless negotiations with Gallo’s New York representatives, before unilaterally severing the agreement and signing to Capitol Records. For her new label she released two albums - Sings and Free Soul - before Gallo re-emerged waving (but sadly, not waiving) her contract and threatening legal action. The continuing ramifications of this situation meant that Mbulu was unable to record for a further two years, instead spending much of her time on tour with, first, Masekela and, later, Cannonball Adderley.

In 1970, Mbulu returned to the studios to record Letta, followed by Naturally and, in 1974, a live album with Harry Belafonte. In 1976, newly-signed to A&M Records through Masekela’s connections with label boss Herb Alpert, she recorded There’s Music In The Air and, in 1980, the Semenya-produced Sound Of A Rainbow, two masterpieces of black American and South African jazz pop fusion. In 1981, she enjoyed considerable USA and UK dance-floor success with the single ‘Kilimanjaro’, co-written with Semenya. Later in the decade, Mbulu guested on Michael Jackson’s ‘Liberian Girl’. She continued to be active throughout the 80s and 90s, based in the USA but frequently touring Africa, the Far East and Europe.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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