Opening ceremony singer dies

2010-05-26 15:33
Siphiwo Ntshebe
Siphiwo Ntshebe
Johannesburg - Tenor Siphiwo Ntshebe, who was to sing Hope at the World Cup opening ceremony next month, died in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday, his record label said on Wednesday.

"This is such a sad, tragic story," said Sony Music Entertainment chief executive officer Keith Lister.

"Within days of realising his dreams he was struck down like this. It is a great loss. For someone who has worked as hard as he has, who has trained, and then to have it taken away right at the moment of the acknowledgement of his talent and success..."

Ntshebe, 34, was dubbed the "new Pavarotti" after the Italian singer Luciano Pavarotti, and had just finished recording an album containing a spoken message of hope and compassion by former president Nelson Mandela.

He was preparing for rehearsals for the opening ceremony when he contracted bacterial meningitis and was admitted to the Livingstone Hospital in his birthplace, Port Elizabeth, last week.

He received "the very best treatment" but died on Tuesday, Epic Records, a division of Sony in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.


Lister said the Hope track was already on the official World Cup album which would be released worldwide. Sony was still deciding what to do about Ntshebe's album.

Lister said the company had to be mindful of the sensitivities of his family and did not want to be seen as opportunistic.

However, he said: "There is a huge public interest of people wanting to hear his voice."

The UK's ITV was planning to broadcast a television special on June 6, anchored by Piers Morgan, and would probably go ahead with that.

Epic said it had signed Ntshebe to a multi-album deal and was enthralled by the power and emotion of his "world class, soaring, tenor voice".

Epic managing director Nick Raphael described the loss of Ntshebe as "a tragedy for his family, his friends and all those who believe in the power of music".

"He had a truly wondrous voice and his music was unique in its melodies and its messages of hope and compassion," he said.

Added Lebo M, executive composer and producer of the World Cup opening ceremony: "Siphiwo is a true South Africa World Cup legacy, gone too soon. May his spirit lead us to June 11 2010. May his soul rest in peace and may Siphiwo's spirit of hope centre us all."

Early life

According to his website, Ntshebe's earliest musical experience was the classical music and opera that he heard when his mother was carrying him.

From the age of five, he would sit on his father’s knee and would sing to the guests visiting his parent’s home.

He was greatly influenced by his grandfather, who was a church reverend in the Eastern Cape, and would perform in the small operas and musical plays that his father wrote for the local church.

He was not offered the opportunity to develop his musical talent until his early teenage years and then he started to sing in school choirs and began studying acting and drama.

At 16 he performed with an orchestra in Port Elizabeth, where he was spotted and offered a scholarship on the choral programme at the University in Cape Town.

This was followed by the offer of a scholarship to Brisbane, Australia, in the Young Artists' Programme, which was endorsed by the South African arts and culture ministry.

In 2004, he was awarded a scholarship on the postgraduate course to study at The Royal College of Music in London, where he completed his studies in 2007.

The site also contained a letter from Mandela which read in part: "Please allow me to thank you for your recent performance at our event in Monaco".

"We appreciate your efforts and we were very proud to show the world a young South African with so much talent that has, despite challenges of the past, chosen to work hard at a better future."

Ntshebe's repertoire included works by Beethoven, Bizet, Offenbach, Orff, Mozart and Verdi.

He performed at, among others, The Dome in Berlin, Germany, in 2006, for the handover ceremony of the World Cup for South Africa; for the Duke of Edinburgh at St James's palace; in Monaco, for Mandela and Prince Albert II; at the SA High Commission in London; and at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

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