Ray Phiri, South African Guitar Legend Heard on Graceland, Dies at 70

Ray Phiri, the South African jazz icon, has passed away after a two–month battle with lung cancer.

Paul Nkanyane, the family spokesperson, confirmed Phiri’s death in the early morning hours of Wednesday, saying that he was “surrounded by close friends and family.” The star was admitted to the hospital two weeks ago, and his condition was made public when a friend launched a crowdfunding effort to assist with his medical bills.

An established figure in the South African music scene through work with his afro–fusion jazz group Stimela, Phiri gained international success when he joined Paul Simon’s Graceland band alongside Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

In addition to his work on Graceland, Phiri provided guitar on Simon’s follow–up, Rhythm of the Saints. He can also be seen and heard playing alongside the songwriter in the 1991 live album, Paul Simon’s Live in the Park.

Ray Phiri performing "Graceland" live with Paul Simon at Concert in the Park, 1991


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