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Brenda Fassie

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Brenda Fassie (November 3, 1964 – May 9, 2004), was a legendary South African pop singer and widely considered the voice for disenfranchised blacks during apartheid. She was affectionately known as the Queen of African Pop. Brenda was born in Langa, Cape Town as the youngest of 9 children. She was named after Brenda Lee, an American country singer. Her father died when she was 2, and with the help of her mother, a pianist, she started earning money by singing for tourists.

In 1981, at the age of 16, she left Cape Town for Soweto, Johannesburg to seek her fortune as a singer. Brenda first joined the group Joy and later became the lead singer for the township pop group Brenda And The Big Dudes. She had a son, Bongani, in 1985 by a fellow Big Dudes musician. Brenda married ex-convict Nhlanhla Mbambo in 1989 but later in 1991 got divorced. It was around this time that she became addicted to cocaine and her career suffered.

With very outspoken views and frequent visits to the poorer townships of Johannesburg, as well as songs about life in the townships, she enjoyed tremendous popularity. Known best for her songs “Weekend Special” and “Too Late for Mama”, she was called by Time Magazine in 2001 “The Madonna of the Townships”.

In a drug-related incident in 1995 she was discovered unconscious with the body of her lover, Poppie Sihlahla, who had died of an apparent overdose. Fassie survived, underwent rehabilitation, and got her career back on track. However, she still had drug problems and returned to drug rehabilitation clinics about 30 times in her life.

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