Known as the "Queen of the Vocals" and dubbed the "Madonna of the Townships" by Time Magazine, Brenda Fassie was one of South Africa's most popular vocalists, mixing African vocals with a slick international pop sound. She had her greatest success in the 1980s and continued to record into the ensuing decades, but became a celebrity known more for her off-stage antics than her on-stage work.
Born in 1964 in the small village of Langa, Cape Town, Fassie came from a musical family and began singing early, forming her first singing group at the age of four. Her precocious talent brought her to the attention of talent scouts from Johannesburg, one of whom eventually took the young teenager to the city to kick-start her career. After singing background vocals for other artists, Fassie broke out with the group Brenda & the Big Dudes with whom she recorded her biggest hit in 1986's "Weekend Special." She went on to a solo career soon after and working with producer Sello "Chicco" Twala Fassie had continued success at the end of the '80s with the hits "Too Late for Mama" and the controversial "Black President," which was banned in apartheid-era South Africa.
Then things started to unravel for Fassie. She was involved in several highly publicized affairs with both men and women and had also begun a costly and destructive cocaine addiction. It also didn't help matters that she became notorious for missing concert dates. The nadir of her excess came in 1995 when Fassie was found in a drugged haze next to the dead body of her girlfriend. The horror of the event was enough to shock her out of her spiraling decline. Her next album, Memeza, was released in 1998 and was the most focused and accomplished album she had released in nearly a decade. Memeza went on to become the best-selling album of the year in South Africa. If there had been any doubt previously, the album's success cemented Fassie's role as a superstar of Afro-pop. Her success continued with subsequent albums and, for a time, nothing seemed impossible for the township hero. In May of 2004, Fassie suffered a sever asthma attack that triggered cardiac arrest forcing her to be hospitalized. The physical breakdown was severe and Fassie's condition deteriorated quickly. On May 9, 2004, Brenda Fassie passed away. ~ Wade Kergan