Remembering Thandi Klaasen: Here’s How The Legendary Singer Served South Africa


As South Africans laid to rest the remains of the legendary Jazz singer, Thandi Klaasen who died on 15 January 2017, the country put to mind all outstanding services rendered by the legend before her death.

Former President Thabo Mbeki praised legendary jazz singer for her outstanding service to South Africans while he addressed mourners at Klaasen’s funeral service in Eden Park on the East Rand on Friday morning.

In his speech, Mbeki said Klaasen offered an outstanding service to the people of South Africa and that was why in 2006, the country decided that she should get the order of the Baobab in Gold, the highest order in terms of service to the people.

No doubt the renowned jazz singer who died at the age of 86, served the country well in her own way beginning her singing career in local churches after which she formed her own female quartet called The Quad Sisters where she did her songs in her very own “Thandi way”.

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Despite facing difficult times in her teenage age- when she was attacked with an acid bomb that permanently disfigured her face- Thandi Klaasen regained her self-confidence to perform in front of people, touching lives with her uniquely crafted songs that gradually went across the South African border.

This award winning singer persevered with an iron will, performing with the twenty-first century great divas like Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe, Dorothy Masuka and Sopie Mgcina. In the 1960s she starred in the internationally acclaimed musical, King Kong, by composer Todd Matshikiza.

Thandi with Mbeki
President Thabo Mbeki bestowed the National Orders on outstanding South Africans to Thandi Klaasen at the Union Buildings in Tshwane.

Even when she had to move to the western world to build her career as apartheid, at that time, was closing down all opportunities for black artists, she continued to uphold South Africa’s good image performing with many international stars, among them Roberta Flack and Patti Labelle.

As she steadily gained a reputation as a jazz singer, she stayed close to her roots and still often used e’Kasi lingo, the colloquial dialect that was spoken in her hometown as she grew up in the multi-racial Johannesburg suburb of Sophiatown.

Klaasen received many honours, most recently the presidential Order of the Baobab in Gold -for  her excellent achievement in and contribution to the art of Music- from president Jacob Zuma in 2016.

As part of the Women’s Month celebrations, Klaasen and four other icons of South African jazz – Abigail Kubheka, Dorothy Masuka, Sathima Bea Benjamin and Sylvia Mdunyelwa – were honoured by Standard Bank with lifetime achievement awards in August 2013.

“We are saddened to learn that Jazz Legend Thandi Klaasen has passed on…How much she touched our spirits and made us complete beings in a world in which things were falling apart,” said Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa when he heard about her death this year.

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This jazz legend will certainly always be remembered for her indomitable spirit and as a person who succeeded against all odds. The funeral procession is expected to proceed to the Thomas Titus Nkobi Memorial park in Germiston.

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