Letta Mbulu - South African vocalist, composer
Letta Mbulu was born and raised in Soweto, South Africa. Still in her teens, Letta began touring outside of Africa with the musical King Kong, which ran for a year in England following a highly successful two-year run in South Africa. When the tour ended, she returned to South Africa but soon the policies of Apartheid were to force her to leave her native land for the U.S.A.
She arrived in the United States in 1965 and quickly befriended such fellow South African exiles in New York City as Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Jonas Gwangwa - all alumni of the King King musical. Performances at New York's famed Village Gate club began to attract attention to her talents, particularly from jazz legend Cannonball Adderley, who invited her to tour with him (which she did throughout the remainder of the decade).
Letta Mbulu also displayed an early gift for writing joyful, memorable songs. These were showcased by no less an authority than Miriam Makeba on the singer's albums THE MAGNIFICENT MIRIAM MAKEBA (Akana Nkomo), ALL ABOUT MIRIAM (U Shaka, Jol'inkomo) and MAKEBA (U-Mngoma, Magwala Ndini).
Letta first made herself heard on records as part of Letta and the Safaris, a group featuring husband Caiphus Semenya and the South African husband and wife team of Jonas and Mamsie Gwangwa. A single, Walkin' Around was issued in 1966 by Columbia Records, but lack of publicity failed to garner much attention to the clever little R&B swinger.