Dr G. Yunupingu, the Aboriginal singer from Elcho Island lauded as “the greatest voice this continent has ever recorded”, has died. He was 46.
His record label, Skinnyfish Music, which called him “one of the most important figures in Australian music history”, said the singer passed away in Royal Darwin Hospital on Tuesday after a long battle with illness.
His full name and image are not being used at the request of the family and in line with cultural tradition.
Dr G. Yunpingu was blind from birth and his 2008 eponymous album went triple platinum. He was left-handed and learnt to play the guitar upside down, joining the acclaimed rock band founded by his late uncle, M. Yunupingu, Yothu Yindu. His solo career over the past decade would garner world-wide acclaim amid performances before the US president Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II for her diamond jubilee concert and a French TV duet with Sting, but ill health formed him to cancel a world tour in 2011.
Music magazine Rolling Stone featured Dr G. Yunupingu on the cover hailing him as “Australia’s most important voice”. Brisbane’s Courier Mail said his music would “change the way you breathe”.
His record label described him thus:
His fragile but powerfully emotive voice has affected the public in a way no other artist has done in this country.
This unique Aboriginal man sings songs about identity, spirit and connection with the land, its elements and the ancestral beings he is related to.
His high tenor voice and aura-like persona creates emotion, compassion and a feeling of peacefulness and longing with audiences in Australia and around the world.
His debut album would go on to sell more than 500,000 albums and become the country’s most successful indigenous musician, with his music reaching the top 40 charts around the world. Singing in his native Yolngu tongue, he released the first Indigenous language single to reach the top five.
Dr G. Yunupingu released two more top five studio albums, Rrakala and The Gospel Album, winning numerous ARIA Awards and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Sydney.
The singer was plagued with health problems after contracting Hepatitis B as a child, leading to liver and kidney disease. The ABC reports that his friend Vaughan Williams was contacted last week by people in Darwin concerned about his health. Renal disease can be easily treated, and Williams took the singer to hospital last Thursday.
The musician continued calling Elcho Island – the place that inspired the song My Island Home, sung by the Warumpi Band – off the coast of Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, his home and Skinnyfish Music said he gave back to his community through the G. Yunupingu Foundation.
“His legacy as a musician and community leader will continue as his life’s work continues its positive impact on Elcho Island, The Northern Territory, Australia and the world,” his label said.
G. Yunupingu’s debut album “cemented him as the Australian voice of a generation”, it said.
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd said his death was “the premature passing of a good man, the son of a great people and a voice which could evoke an extraordinary magic”.
Fellow musicians began paying tribute to the singer, with Midnight Oil singer Peter Garrett saying he had “so much left to give”.
My dear friend Dr Yunupingu – a truly great musician – is gone. Very sad news. Too young, so much left to give. Heart goes out to family.
— Peter Garrett (@pgarrett) July 25, 2017
Aboriginal musician Troy Cassar-Daley also paid tribute.
Rip Brother Dr G Yunupingu, you were a light among us love to his Family & the Galiwin’ku community NT pic.twitter.com/drVp5sUasu
— Troy Cassar-Daley (@troycassardaley) July 25, 2017
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.