South African music legend Letta Mbulu celebrates 75th birthday in style

Music legend and struggle stalwart Letta Mbulu's Soweto home in Orlando East officially declared a heritage site


South African music legend Letta Mbulu celebrated her 75th birthday in fine style among her people of Orlando East, Soweto where she was born more than seven decades ago. The award-winning singer’s big day which coincided with South Africa’s Heritage Day Celebrations on Monday, September 24, was made even more special by the City of Johannesburg and the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation who as part of the Arts Alive International Festival honored the music icon for her contribution to the music industry as well as her stance against apartheid.

Last month, the City of Johannesburg announced that Mbulu’s Soweto home at 1670 Molahloe Street in Orlando East would be declared a heritage site, and as South Africans took part in various Heritage Month festivities, the custodians of Arts Alive lived up to their promise to honor Mbulu while she is still alive.

The stalwart’s big day began with a walk from the Orlando East Community Hall to her home before the celebrations resumed with music and dance tributes dedicated to her for the remainder of the day. Youth-led bands and cultural groups dominated the proceedings as legends such Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, Jonas Gwangwa and many others enjoyed the feast of activities.

Accompanied by her husband of five decades, Caiphus Semeny, the Not Yet Uhuru singer who looks half her age took fans back to her township upbringing as a budding 13-year-old singer. “This is where it all started for me,” she said as she pointed at the YMCA building behind her. Later she went on to thank the people of Soweto for encouraging her on her musical journey. “I thank God for the gift He gave me, and my mother who nurtured it. I’m also indebted to James Mabena, the man who discovered me as well as the people of Soweto who made me aware that I had a special gift.

“I know that we, the people of Orlando are politically aware. We need to fight for our rights as the community of Orlando,” she said.
A heritage blue plaque was unveiled by City of Joburg MMC for community development Nonhlanhla Sifumba and the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation at the legend’s Orlando East home in Soweto amid singing, dancing, and ululation.

Mbulu began her music career at the age of 13 and went on to tour countries such as England with the musical King Kong. She was later forced into exile in the United States, before eventually establishing herself as a season performer and songwriter alongside great American acts such as Cannonball Adderly and Harry Belafonte.