by Sharon Warr
The South African music scene was a topsy turvy place in the 60s. The country was struggling with all sorts of political and cultural problems and music became one of the few things that all South Africans could escape to in a turbulent social and political landscape. But even the music could not avoid the destructive power of apartheid and this showed in the segregation of talent. The townships had their stars and the urban, mostly white areas had theirs.
My own formative musical experiences were shaped by British and American influences popular on the radio at the time – SA had no television until 1976! Amongst others, Jim Reeves, Matt Monro, Pat Boone, Helen Shapiro and Elvis Presley were the icons of the day. Sprinkled among these international celebrities were some of our own home-grown stars, a fact that largely escaped me at the time. I thought all famous artists came from "overseas"!
One of the most recognizable and sweetly haunting tunes of the early 60s was Moon River which had been written by Henry Mancini for the film "Breakfast at Tiffany's". In 1961 Danny Williams rendition of it reached number one on the UK charts, pipping Andy Williams' (no relation) version in the same year. Danny Williams was a young South African from Port Elizabeth.
Also in 1961, a song called "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" charted in the USA; it was composed in 1939 by Zulu composer, Solomon Linda, and brought to international attention by an American band called The Tokens.
Another famous export was Manfred Lubowitz whose band became known as Manfred Mann. He was born in Johannesburg in 1940 and in 1961 left South Africa for the UK. He made international waves with the hits Do Wah Diddy, Ha Ha Said the Clown, Pretty Flamingo, Fox on the Run and the catchy Mighty Quinn. Later, as part of Manfred Mann's Earth Band he had further successes with Blinded by the Light and Davey’s on the Road Again.
Those that made it internationally in the 60s however were few and far between. Popular and accomplished as they were, many South African artists and songwriters remained much closer to home. The Johannesburg band, The Staccatos, is one example whose 1969 mega hit Cry to Me is still a favourite today. The Flames, originally from Durban, also had a massive hit with For Your Precious Love, arguably the most requested song on radio in the late 60s, early 70s. Band members Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar ended up playing for the Beach Boys! Then there was Dickie Loader who had hits with Jenny Jenny and Exclusively Yours, to my mind sounding a lot like Cliff Richard and the Shadows in the latter. Loader's sound ranked with any of the international rock 'n roll acts of the day. Who could forget The Bats and their hit Shabby Little Hut - still an SA classic. The band remained on the local circuit for decades.
Another success story was that of the Four Jacks and a Jill. Their hits Timothy (1967) and Master Jack (1968) were instant hits on Springbok Radio. Master Jack having the added distinction of being the only home-grown song recorded in South Africa ever to make the Top 20 in the USA based Billboard singles charts. No mean feat considering the company they were in – Status Quo, Rolling Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, Tommy James & The Shondells!
Apart from bands, solo artists like Gene Rockwell, Virginia Lee, Hilary (with the irritatingly catchy Sunglasses!) and Quentin E Klopjaeger (aka Billy Forrest) who had a hit with Lazy Life under that name, all made their presence felt on the SA charts in the 60s as did Carike Keuzenkamp, Cornelia, Groep Twee, Peter Lotis, Des & Dawn Lindberg...too many to mention in the allotted space!
The 70s saw the rise of even more top South African acts but more on them next time.
Don't forget you can listen to any of the songs mentioned here on YouTube - go on...be amazed!