Letta Mbulu

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Letta Mbulu
Born (1942-08-23) 23 August 1942 (age 80)
Soweto, South Africa
GenresJazz, world
Years active1965–present
LabelsCapitol, Chisa, Fantasy, A&M

Letta Mbulu (born 23 August 1942)[1] is a South African jazz singer who has been active since the 1960s.


Born and raised in Soweto, South Africa, she has been active as a singer since the 1960s. While still a teenager she toured with the musical King Kong[2] — but left for the United States in 1964 due to Apartheid.[1]

In New York City, she connected with other South African exiles, including Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Jonas Gwangwa,[2] and went on to work with Cannonball Adderley, David Axelrod and Harry Belafonte.[1]

On screen, her singing can also be heard in Roots, The Color Purple (1985), and the 1973 film A Warm December,[3] and she was a guest on a Season 6 episode of Soul Train. Mbulu also provided the Swahili chant in Michael Jackson's single, "Liberian Girl". Producer Quincy Jones has said of her: "Mbulu is the roots lady, projecting a sophistication and warmth which stirs hope for attaining pure love, beauty, and unity in the world."[3]

She is the founding member of the South African Artists United (SAAU), an organisation that was established in 1986.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Mbulu is married to musician Caiphus Semenya.[5] As the apartheid regime loomed over people of colour in the 1970s, Mbulu went to the United States, where, in exile, she continued to pursue music. She toured with jazz alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, and also went on to join forces with American singer Harry Belafonte. Together they went on several world tours. Her main musical influences became folk, American Jazz and Brazilian music.[6]



  • Letta Mbulu Sings (Capitol, 1967)
  • Free Soul (Capitol, 1968)
  • Letta (Chisa, 1970)
  • Naturally (Fantasy, 1972)
  • There's Music in the Air (A&M, 1976)
  • Letta (A&M, 1977)
  • Letta Mbulu – Gold (A&M, 1978)
  • Letta Mbulu – Sweet juju (Morning, 1985)
  • The Best of Letta & Caiphus (Columbia, 1996)
  • Greatest Hits (Columbia, 1999)
  • Letta Mbulu Sings/Free Soul (Stateside, 2005)
  • Culani Nami (Sony, 2007)

With Quincy Jones


  1. ^ a b c Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 1650. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  2. ^ a b c Douglas Payne, "Letta Mbulu", Douglaspayne.com
  3. ^ a b Craig Harris, Artist Biography, AllMusic
  4. ^ Rajgopaul, Jeeva (26 August 2011). "Letta Mbulu". South African History Online. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  5. ^ "Semenya, Caiphus (South Africa)". Music.org.za. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  6. ^ "Letta Mbulu – South African Music". Southafrica.co.za. Retrieved 29 December 2019.
  7. ^ "National Orders Recipients 2009". South African History online. Archived from the original on 17 December 2015. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  8. ^ Patience Bambalele (5 December 2018). "Letta Mbulu scoops another honorary award". sowetanlive.

External links[edit]