Singer Dr G. Yunupingu dies aged 46
DR G. Yunupingu, one of Australia's most treasured artists, has died after a long battle with chronic illness.
The 46-year-old singer and songwriter made an indelible contribution to Australian culture, introducing his indigenous culture to the world and top of the charts with an angelic voice singing in his own language.
Born on Elcho Island off north east Arnhemland, the acutely shy blind boy of the Gumatj clan taught himself to play drums, keyboards, didgeridoo and guitar. He was a son of the Rainbow Spirit and his animal totem was Baru, the crocodile.
His passing was confirmed in a statement by his longtime friends Michael Hohnen and Mark Grose at his label Skinnyfish Music.
"Today we mourn the loss of a great Australian, Dr G. Yunupingu who sadly passed away yesterday in Royal Darwin Hospital at age 46 after a long battle with illness," they posted.
"Dr G. Yunpingu 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.
"Skinnyfish Music and Dr G. Yunupingu's family ask for your respect at this time."
He joined his family band Yothu Yindi in 1989 when he was a teenager and contributed to the writing of their hit Treaty. He then co-founded the Saltwater Band with his brother Andrew and cousin Jonathon before embarking on a solo career which made him a global superstar.
His songs were simple but their emotional impact was complex, his fragile voice soaring on captivating melodies as he told his stories about his land and identity and spirit in Yolngu language.
When he sang, you could feel everything. At every concert, fans would weep quietly as he sang and erupt in roaring cheers and applause as the last note sounded. It was as much a spiritual experience as musical magic.
He was just as hypnotic with his instruments, curious to watch as the left-handed man played a right-handed guitar. And you found yourself leaning in when he sat at the piano.
Dr G. Yunupingu's self-titled album was released in 2008, reaching a peak of No. 3 in Australia, breaking into the top 50 in the UK and winning him the ARIA Awards for Best World Music Album and independent Reelease and the Deadly Awards for album, single and artist of the year. It has since sold more than half a million copies worldwide.
Not only did the unique record resonate strongly with Australian audiences but international superstars including Elton John and Sting would soon be singing his praises and performing alongside the gifted performer.
His friend and musical director Michael Hohnen helped capture Dr G. Yunupingu's vision on record and the stage.
He would also serve as his voice, along with Mark Grose, his partner in Skinnyfish Music Mark Grose, when it came to interviews.
The artist was reluctant to talk about himself. Hohnen would convey what Dr G. Yunupingu thought about his music, international success and his foundation for indigenous children.
Both Hohnen and Grose, along with the dozens of artists who were privileged to work or perform worked with him, from Paul Kelly to Briggs, Jessica Mauboy to Peter Garrett would invariably remark on his intelligence and wit, innate musicality and gentle nature.
He proved inspiring to artists with the Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu portrait by Guy Maestri winning the 2009 Archibald Prize and now hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, where it was admired by Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge during their visit last year.
His second album Rralaka, performed in a mixture of Yolngu and English, would also reach the top of the Australian charts and reach platinum sales but more importantly, cemented his reputation as one of the most awe-inspiring voices on the world stage.
The purity of his voice evoked the ancient beauty of his stories and served as a powerful reminder of the richness of indigenous culture.
The song Bayini from Rrakala would enjoy three successful incarnations, firstly on the album and then in a new recording with Sarah Blasko, the union of their distinctive vocal gifts bewitching on radio and in concert.
He invited Delta Goodrem to sing Bayini with the Sydney Symphony on The Voice in 2013 and again at the Sydney Opera House, with their rendition released to raise funds for the Gurrumul Yunupingu Foundation.
Dr G. Yunupingu released his third record The Gospel Album in 2015; it was also his third solo opus to peak at No. 3 on the ARIA charts.
His chart success was matched at the box office when he was able to tour, with concerts cancelled or delayed because of chronic health problems.
The musician suffered the ongoing effects of a hepatitis B infection carried since childhood and kidney disease.
He was allegedly denied proper treatment for several hours on Easter Sunday last year when he went to Royal Darwin hospital after vomiting blood.
Dr G. Yunupingu continued to suffer internal bleeding and ended up in intensive care before he received lifesaving surgery.
He was also subject to gross acts of racism. A taxi waiting to pick him up at the backstage at Melbourne's Palais Theatre in December 2012 after his performance with Missy Higgins took off when he walked out the door.
Grose and Hohnen, his brothers-in-arms at Skinnyfish, revealed it wasn't the first time.
Despite his poor health, Dr G. Yunupingu had been working on numerous projects this year.
A post on his Facebook updated fans on the progress of the film of his life due to premiere in Melbourne next month.
"Gurrumul's listening on the phone, to lots of the new audio of his film, premiering in Melbourne Aug. 19.
He also finished a new album in May.
Jessica Mauboy has also recorded a version of Amazing Grace with Gurrumul completely in Yolngu language for the new series of The Secret Daughter.
"Gurrumul gave me that opportunity to express what I've always wanted to do in Yolngu language," she told News Corp music writer Cameron Adams recently.