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Jazz Remembered


Terry Lightfoot and King Kong

John Doyle hosts a local radio programme at Near FM in Dublin. He writes:

'On 1st August, the Irish August Monday, I played King Kong by Terry Lightfoot.  I've liked this record since its release in 1961. Any information I've read of this 1959 jazz musical from South Africa, mentioned that the show was going to Broadway after its London performances, early 1962.'

'Last weekend, while searching for information on pianist Johnny Parker, I read for the first time that due to various difficulties, the show did not open on Broadway.  Instead, the seventy-cast show broke up in London.  Some cast members went home, others stayed in England.  Johnny Terry Lightfoot King KongParker's second wife Peggy Phango, was a cast member who stayed. Some years ago, while seeking information on the King Kong musical, I found a five page feature in a 1961 issue of Ebony, an American magazine aimed at African American people.  The feature was more photographic than text.  The photographs were taken in London.  Ebony mentions the show's impending run on Broadway, which didn't happen. One photograph, is a young member of the cast playing an alto Grafton plastic saxophone.  It was a birthday present from the cast. I only saw the Grafton plastic saxophone on display in one Dublin music shop, Piggott's, it was around 1959.' 

Click here to listen to Terry Lightfoot's New Orleans Jazzmen playing King Kong (click the grey box to the right that says 'Listen').

This is the title track song from King Kong, an All African Jazz Opera in 1959 starring Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Kippie Moeketsi. Click here to listen to Kwela Song from the original cast recording.

Wikipedia tells us: 'King Kong had an all-black cast. The musical portrayed the life and times King Kong Opera album of a heavyweight boxer, Ezekiel Dlamini, known as "King Kong". Born in 1921, after a meteoric boxing rise, his life degenerated into drunkenness and gang violence. He knifed his girlfriend, asked for the death sentence during his trial and instead was sentenced to 14 years hard labour. He was found drowned in 1957 and it was believed his death was suicide. He was 36.'

'After being a hit in South Africa in 1959, the musical played at the Prince's Theatre in the West End of London in 1961. The liner notes for the London cast recording state: "No theatrical venture in South Africa has had the sensational success of King Kong. This musical, capturing the life, colour, and effervescence -- as well as the poignancy and sadness -- of township life, has come as a revelation to many South Africans that art does not recognize racial barriers. King Kong has played to capacity houses in every major city in the Union [of South Africa], and now, the first export of indigenous South African theatre, it will reveal to the rest of the world the peculiar flavour of township life, as well as the hitherto unrecognized talents of its people. The show, opened at the Princes Theatre, London, on February 23, 1961 ...'

'. ..... According to John Matshikiza, King Kong's first night was attended by Nelson Mandela, who at the interval congratulated Todd Matshikiza "on weaving a subtle message of support for the Treason Trial leaders into the opening anthem".'



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