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 South African Soul Divas pt 3 Dolly Rathebe,MabelMafuya,NancyJacobs,EvaMadison

African Jazz & Variety -AlfredHerbert1952

Dolly Rathebe -Thlapi Ke Noga

following  Dolly Rathebe’s film career,her fame as a singer increased. Before there was Miriam Makeba, Dolly was the lead singer of the Manhattan Brothers and she recorded her first tunes with them.

She says: “It was a hectic time because I also worked with the Harlem Swingsters and toured with the African Jazz and Variety Show.”

 At that time, Dolly was under contract with Alfred Herbert, a creative organiser who arranged many concerts and who was a driving force behind the popularization of South African jazz. It was Herbert from whom Dolly Rathebe learned the tricks of the trade. She became the star of the show because of her silky singing and good looks. Her legs were considered so beautiful that a metaphor was coined for them. ‘It’s dolly’ meant ‘it’s wonderful’ and was an abbreviation of the Afrikaans ‘s’Dolly se boude’ (it’s Dolly’s tights).

Dolly Rathebe -Ke Ya Kae Le Bona

Drum cover July 1955 photo Bob Gosani

At the start of the 50’s, Herbert had an extensive series of jazz concerts arranged as the African Jazz Parade, a series of numerous performances and concerts, ending years later in Kenya as the African Jazz and Variety Show. During this period that show became somewhat of an institution inSouth Africa. The theatres of Johannesburg were sold out and the show went on tour around other main cities of South Africa and across the African continent.
The musicians all travelled by train and formed bonds and friendships during those long tours away from home. Inspired by the successful Jazz Train in the United States, a special tour to Durban was  organized. The most important musicians of the South African jazz scene from that era were onboard this train.   On a Wednesday morning in June 1955 the Jazz Train left Johannesburg, full of fans, musicians and groupies, on their way  to Durban.

  • Dolly Rathebe posing for an ad for Max cigarettes in 1951.

Photographer Jurgen Schadeberg. “I took this photo in theWerner studios in Johannesburg to promote a cigarette brand. It was one of the first images of black people who were used for commercial advertising.”

  • Dolly Rathebe on the beach 1952. Photographer Jurgen Schadeberg.

 Excerpt and photographs from the book

‘Familieverhalen uit Zuid Afrika, een groepsportret’ by Paul Faber

KIT Publishers, Amsterdam and Kwela Books Cape Town 2002.

4 thoughts on “on the Jazz Train with Dolly Rathebe

  1. This is a fantastic blog.
    Just to let you know, that picture of Dolly by Jurgen Schadeberg was part of a series taken on a mine dump rather than a beach

    1. thanks! Did you know that both the model and the photographer were arrested during this shoot?
      -the story as told by Dolly Rathebe can be found in the book ‘Familieverhalen uit Zuid Afrika, een groepsportret’ by Paul Faber-
      Photographing a black girl in a bathing suit in 1952 was surely a faux-pas according to
      the authorities…

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