I have heard him play and sing at Womadelaide and have many of his tapes to stir me with his haunting music and lyrics. The world will sorely miss this blind Aboriginal artiste from the Yolngu people whose heart and music reached beyond his clan. Michael Roberts
The world acclaimed blind indigenous music artist Dr G Yunupingu has died aged 46 at Royal Darwin Hospital. Dr Yunupingu’s record label, Skinnyfish, posted a brief statement on Facebook on Wednesday morning remembering Dr Yunupingu as “one of the most important figures in Australian music history”.
In line with Indigenous tradition and at the request of his family, the full name and images of the late artist are not being published. It is understood the singer had been receiving dialysis and had been ill for some time. His family are expected to be offered a state funeral, News Corp reported. The singer, from the remote community of Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island, 500 kilometres east of Darwin, was a founding member of the groundbreaking Yothu Yindi band before shooting to solo stardom in 2008, winning an ARIA Award for his namesake album.
The album hit triple platinum in Australia, silver in the UK and charted in multiple countries worldwide. Dr Yunupingu was described by veteran music critic Bruce Elder as possessing “the greatest voice this continent has ever recorded”. In 2012 he was forced to cancel a number of European performances due to illness, including performing at the London Olympic Games.
After joining Yothu Yindi in his teens under the guidance of his uncle and lead singer Mr Yunupingu, he later went on to play with the Saltwater Band, before being persuaded by friend Michael Hohnen to go solo. Dr Yunupingu played with Sting in Paris, and performed for former US president Barack Obama, and Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark.
In 2011 he became seriously ill and returned to Elcho Island, but subsequently travelled to perform at the Queen’s diamond jubilee concert in London in 2012.
After that performance he was forced to return home and cancel the European tour that was to have followed it.
That same year he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Music by the University of Sydney , with Associate Dean Professor Anna Reid saying Dr Yunupingu had made an “outstanding contribution” to music.
Skinnyfish Music said he gave back to his community as the driving force behind the G Yunupingu Foundation. “Dr G Yunupingu is remembered today as one of the most important figures in Australian music history, blind from birth and emerging from the remote Galiwin’ku community on Elcho Island off the coast of Arnhem Land to sell over half a million copies of his albums across the world, singing in his native Yolngu language,” the Skinnyfish statement read.
“The highest selling Indigenous artist in history, Dr G Yunupingu released two subsequent top five studio albums Rrakala and The Gospel Album, achieved a swag of ARIA Awards, performed across the globe for audiences including Queen Elizabeth II and Barack Obama and released the first Indigenous language single to reach the top five, all the while continuing to call Elcho Island home.”
Skinnyfish Music recognised him as a one of a kind recording artist.“His high tenor voice and aura-like persona create emotion, compassion and a feeling of peacefulness and longing with audiences in Australia and around the world,” their statement read.
A documentary about Dr Yunupingu’s life is scheduled to premiere next month at the Melbourne Film Festival. The tributes for Dr Yunupingu had already begun to flow in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Midnight Oil frontman and former federal government minister Peter Garrett also took to Twitter to mourn the loss.