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Hugh Masekela“Grazing in the Grass” is a timeless song. No matter the season or year, it always seems fresh and new. Maybe it’s because there are traditionally so few instrumentals that land on the charts, much less make it all the way to #1, as this classic did in June of 1968.

(“Love is Blue” also made it to the top as a #1 instrumental song in 1968.)

And 1968 wasn’t just any year for music. “Grazing in the Grass” had some very hefty competition: “Honey,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “This Guy’s In Love With You”…not to mention “Hey Jude” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”!

But Hugh Masekela, a trumpet player and band leader from South Africa, had a fresh sound which trumpeted (pun intended!) the coming of the brass into popular music: Herb Albert, Chicago, Earth Wind and Fire, et al.

Masekela helped usher in a new age in pop music with “Grazing,” including the African influence to show up on the charts a decade or more later; Masekela was part of Paul Simon’s Graceland tour in the mid-’80s.

(Some may point out that the brass section in “Ring of Fire” released in 1963 by Americana legend Johnny Cash was a startling and effective new “sound” as well.)

“Masekela studied at the Royal Academy of Music, then the Manhattan School of Music. During the early ’60s, his career began to explode. He recorded for MGM, Mercury and Verve, developing his hybrid African/pop/jazz style. Masekela moved to California and started his own record label, Chisa. He cut several albums expanding this formula and began to score pop success. The song “Grazing In The Grass” topped the charts in 1968 and eventually sold four million copies worldwide. That year Masekela sold out arenas nationwide during his tour, among them Carnegie Hall.” —