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date: 28 February 2021

Benjamin, Sathima Bea [Benjamin, Beatrice Bertha; Beatty; Satima]free

  • Gary Kennedy

Updated in this version

updated and revised

(b Johannesburg, South Africa, Oct 17, 1936; d Cape Town, South Africa, Aug 20, 2013). South African singer. Born in Johannesburg, she was raised by her paternal grandmother in Cape Town. The name Sathima, which means “person with a kind heart,” was given to her by Johnny Dyani and was originally spelled Satima. She sang standards and show tunes in local groups as a teenager and was performing professionally by the late 1950s. From 1959 she worked with Hugh Masekela and Dollar Brand, with whom she moved to Zurich in 1962 to escape the politics of apartheid in South Africa. In Paris in 1963 she made her first recording as a leader, accompanied by a small group under the direction of Duke Ellington that included Svend Asmussen, the double bass player Johnny Gertze, and Makaya Ntshoko, with either Brand, Billy Strayhorn, or Ellington on piano; the results were not issued until 34 years later. In 1965 Benjamin performed with Ellington’s orchestra at the Newport Jazz Festival, and in the same year she married Brand, after which she often sang in his groups; Brand took the Muslim name Abdullah Ibrahim in 1968 after converting to Islam. Benjamin spent periods in New York (1965–8), Europe (1968–9), Swaziland (1970–73), and South Africa (1973–6) before settling in New York (1977), although she performed infrequently after the birth of her first child (c1972). In 1979 she resumed recording and performing on a fairly regular basis, with Onaje Allen Gumbs, Kenny Barron, Larry Willis, Buster Williams, and Billy Higgins among her sidemen, and in 1981 she and Ibrahim founded the record company and label Ekapa. From 1990, on account of the political situation in South Africa, she lived alternately there and in New York; in 2011 she settled in Cape Town, where she continued to perform. She is the subject of the documentary film Sathima’s Windsong (2010). With Carol Ann Muller she published Musical Echoes: South African Women Thinking in Jazz (Durham, NC, 2010).

Selected recordings

Morning in Paris (1963, Enja 9309-2)

Lovelight (1987, Enja 6022)

Southern Touch (1989, Enja 7015-2)

Bibliography

  • V. Wilmer: “Two in Harmony,” Jazz Beat, 2/6 (1965), 22
  • D. Constant: “Le satin de Sathima,” Jm, no.320 (1983), 54
  • S. Placksin: “Sathima Bea Benjamin: ‘to Me, Music is such a Direct Way for One Heart to Speak to the Other’,” Jazz, no.4 (1984), 16
  • S. Placksin: “Sathima: Music is the Spirit within You,” Women and Performance: a Journal of Feminist Theory, 2/1 (1984), 21
  • E. Hazell: “Sathima Bea Benjamin: African Songbird,” Coda, no.216 (1987), 4
  • P. Carles, A. Clergeat, and J.-L. Comolli: Dictionnaire du jazz (Paris, 1988, rev. and enlarged 2/1994)
  • F. Davis: Outcats: Jazz Composers, Instrumentalists, and Singers (New York, and Oxford, England, 1990), 46
  • S.H. Thompson: “Sathima Bea Benjamin: South African Soul,” JT (1990), April, 36
  • B. Crowther: “Three Jazz Voices,” JJI, 44/11 (1991), 14 [incl. discography]
  • C. Muller: “Sathima Bea Benjamin: Domesticity, Jazz, and Power,” Papers Presented at the Tenth Symposium of Ethnomusicology (Natal, South Africa, 1995), 132
  • C. Muller: “Sathima Bea Benjamin: Exile and the ‘Southern Touch’ in Jazz Creation and Performance,” African Language and Culture, 9 (1996), 127
  • P. Carles: “Sathima Bea Benjamin: un autre matin à Paris,” Jm, no.471 (1997), 28
  • K. Franckling: “Riffs: Benjamin’s Historic Recording Resurfaces,” DB, 64/6 (1997), 19
  • L. Rasmussen: Abdullah Ibrahim: a Discography (Copenhagen, 1999), 214
  • L. Rasmussen: Sathima Bea Benjamin: Embracing Jazz (Copenhagen, 2000) [incl. discography]
  • Obituary, NYT (August 29, 2013)
Jazz Times (Washington, 1980-)
Journal of Musicology
Jazz Journal International
Down Beat