Internationally acclaimed Indigenous musician Dr G Yunupingu has died at age 46 following a long battle with chronic illness — leaving what friends, family and admirers have referred to as a deafening silence.
The multi-talented Dr Yunupingu was born on 22 January 1971 in Galiwin'ku, Elcho Island, about 530km east of Darwin. He was from the Gumatij clan of the Yolngu people and his mother was from the Galpu nation.
Born blind, he became fascinated with music at a very early age and initially pursued this interest by experimenting with tin cans. Dr Yunipingu later learned to play the drums, keyboards and the didgeridoo.
He was left-handed, but this did not prevent him from becoming an accomplished player of a right-hand strung guitar. He learned to play at the age of six by holding the guitar upside down, which he continued to do in all his later performances.
However, despite his virtuosity with various musical instruments, it was the clarity of his singing voice that won Dr Yunipingu worldwide acclaim.
The musician shot to fame in 2008 with a namesake album that won an ARIA award, hit triple platinum in Australia and charted in multiple countries worldwide. It was well-received in the UK, going silver. In all, Dr Yunipingu's albums sold more than half a million copies worldwide. He primarily sang in his native Yolngu language.
Worldwide acclaim followed. Dr Yunipingu performed at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee concert in 2012, played with Sting in Paris and also performed for U.S. President Barack Obama, and the Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark, Frederick and Mary. Elton John and Björk are among his international fans.
Despite his worldwide fame, the singer did not like giving interviews and preferred to let his music speak for itself.
Plagued with ill-health for most of his life due to contracting Hepatitis B as a child, Dr Yunipingu eventually contracted the kidney and liver disease that led to his demise.
His friend Vaughan Williams, who has known Dr Yunipingu since he was 15, felt that his friend's death was preventable:
"Questions need to be asked about how this could happen. It's a failure of all of us that we have lost such an amazing human being. I feel he was trapped in the same cycle of ill health that so many Indigenous people are trapped in."
"He was a shy, humble, and wonderful young man who turned out to have such a fantastic voice. He was a musical genius who could do rock, gospel, soul....he could do it all."
Jessica Mauboy, who recorded a Yolngu version of "Amazing Grace" with Dr Yunipingu before his death, said: "We have lost a great leader, a legend in the music industry, our community and an even bigger loss to the world. I will miss him very much."
Country superstar Troy Cassar-Daley said Dr Yunipingu was a
"... once in a lifetime artist."
Australian music legend Archie Roach was distraught hearing the news:
"So with a broken heart, I still hear his voice that gave me such peace and reconnected me to Country. That will be sadly missed with the passing of such a beautiful man."
Yorta Yorta soprano and Dean of Indigenous Performance at the Victorian College of the Arts Deborah Cheetham said: "(He) ignited a fire for Aboriginal Australians that singing in language is so meaningful for us, a way of connecting who we are, where we come from. He changed that world for us."
She said it was difficult to accept that Dr Yunipingu has died — especially so young:
"I'll tell you what — when a voice like that is silenced in the world, it's a kind of deafening silence that takes some time to get used to."
Out of respect for his family, no images of Dr Yunipungu nor his full name have been published.
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