Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, a blind Aboriginal musician renowned for singing in his native Yolngu language with a heart-rending voice, died July 25 in Darwin, Australia. He was 46.
His recording label, Darwin-based Skinnyfish Music, announced the death but did not disclose the cause.
Mr. Yunupingu is now referred to by local media as Dr. G. Yunupingu because of cultural sensitivities among northern Australian Aborigines for naming the dead.
“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 statement said.
His debut album, “Gurrumul,” released in 2008, became a global smash. He released two other top-five studio albums — “Rrakala” and “The Gospel Album” — and performed around the world for audiences including President Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tweeted Mr. Yunupingu was “a remarkable Australian sharing Yolngu language with the world through music.”
More comfortable speaking in his native language than in English, Mr. Yunupingu avoided media interviews and lived most of his life on remote Elcho Island.
He first picked up a guitar as a 6-year-old, learning to play it upside down because he was left-handed. He suffered years of ill health, as a child contracting hepatitis B, which left him with liver and kidney disease.
In 2012, he had to cancel a number of European performances because of illness, including performing at the London Olympic Games. Aborigines are the most disadvantaged ethnic group in Australia. They die younger than other Australians and suffer higher incarceration and jobless rates.
Skinnyfish managing director Mark Grose declined to detail Mr. Yunupingu’s health problems, which he described as “quite complex.” “His health issues are issues that have come from childhood illness,” Grose told reporters. “His early childhood is really what’s marked him out for passing away early.”
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