Lifetime Awards Winner – Arts Advocacy: Johnny Mekoa

Famous trumpeter and music educator Dr Ramakgobotla John Mekoa was born in Etwatwa, Benoni in 1945. He developed a passion for jazz music at an early age; his dream was to study jazz and become a professional jazz musician. 

In 1964 he tried to enrol for a course in music but was turned away because he was black. Mekoa was shattered, but he held onto his dream and his brother gave him jazz lessons at random. During this time, he would play for audiences at nightclubs across Johannesburg. In 1991 he received a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Natal. He then obtained a Fulbright Scholarship to study for a master’s degree in music at the University of Indiana in the United States. He came back and established the Music Academy of Gauteng in 1994. 

It has become a centre of jazz excellence, with luminaries such as Malcolm Jiyane, Mthunzi Mvubu, Mpho Mabogoane, Nthabiseng Mokoena and Linda Tshabalala to mention but a few having passed through its doors. The centre has also focused on teaching jazz music to children from impoverished backgrounds. The celebrated Jiyane was once a street kid, as was Dumisani Nxumalo, who now has a master’s degree in music. Mekoa identified their talents and nurtured them to become the top jazz musicians that they are today. 

Mekoa’s centre was awarded the prestigious International Jazz Education Network Award for five consecutive years. The late American jazz legend Dr Billy Taylor, who was on the advisory board of the Jazz Education Network, took pride in the achievements of the academy. 

Mekoa has received honorary doctorates from the University of Pretoria and University of South Africa for his contributions to music. He was also bestowed a Life Achievement Award by the Swedish Jazz Federation and further received numerous Mayoral Awards from the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality. He played a very important role in the establishment of the Standard Bank Youth Jazz Festival that takes place annually during the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. He is also a past president of the South African Jazz Education Network. 

Mekoa also sits on and has contributed immensely to the boards of the SAMRO Endowment for the National Arts and the Unisa Music Examination Board.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Guest Author

Related stories


Subscribers only

How smuggled gold destined for Dubai or Singapore has links...

Three Malagasy citizens were apprehended at OR Tambo International airport, but now the trail is found to connect to France and Mali

How lottery execs received dubious payments through a private company

The National Lottery Commission is being investigated by the SIU for alleged corruption and maladministration, including suspicious payments made to senior NLC employees between 2016 and 2017

More top stories

R2.3bn VBS trial expected to only begin in 2022

The state is expected to request a 16 week-long trial, as delays stymie progress in the saga.

Spy boss tells how agency was used to detain Zuma’s...

Day two of State Security Agency testimony at the Zondo commission birthed more revelations that point to the former head of state and agents breaking the law

Covax will take excess doses of Covid vaccines off the...

The global initiative plans to deliver two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines to developing nations

Eastern Cape citizens don’t have to visit the labour department...

This measure, aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19, may shortly be introduced in other regions.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…