The Chelsea Hotel community, together with music fans from around the world, mourn the recent passing of South African jazz singer Sathima Bea Benjamin (Oct. 17, 1936 – Aug. 20, 2013). She was 76. A longtime resident of the Chelsea, Sathima moved into the hotel in 1977 with her husband, the celebrated jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (aka Dollar Brand). She remained at the Chelsea until 2012, when she and her family moved back to Cape Town.
In her long career, Sathima and her husband worked with jazz artists as diverse as Dexter Gordan, Ben Webster, John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk. Sathima recorded ten albums over her long career, including Morning in Paris with Duke Ellington, and Dedications, which was nominated for a Grammy in 1982. Though she often worked in the shadow of her more famous husband, Sathima’s incredible career is the subject of a 2010 documentary film, Sathima’s Windsong, directed by Daniel Yon (below is the trailer).
Sathima was an important part of the Chelsea community, and many residents attended her 70th birthday party at the New York jazz club Sweet Rhythm. But the last time we heard Sathima sing was at an event at a Village club honoring longtime friend and fellow jazz performer Stormé Delarverie. Early in the evening, standing in the restless crowd as disco music throbbed through Henrietta Hudson’s, Sathima expressed some reservations about singing: “I think we’re at the wrong place. I don’t think these people want to hear me sing. I think they want to dance.” We assured her that they would love her singing. “For Stormé,” she said, “I’ll sing.” And in the end, she had them eating out of her hand. In the cab ride home, satisfied with her performance, she said, “I came, I did my thing for Stormé, and it wasn’t hard work for me!”
Sathima is survived by Ibrahim and
her two children, Tsakwe and Tsidi (who performs as the rapper Jean Grae).