Cape Town - One of of Cape Town’s iconic music figures and voices, former SA’s Got Talent winner James Bhemgee, 57, passed away on Wednesday morning after a short illness, a source close to the family confirmed.
Such was the shock of his passing and the extent of his influence in the industry that Bhemgee’s sister, Nerine Schilder, had to confirm on Facebook that the family themselves received the news through social media.
She messaged: “To all my friends and family, I confirm that my brother James Bhemgee has passed away this morning.
“This was absolutely shocking news to his children and family, as the news was released on social media first.”
There were heartfelt tributes from fellow musicians, fans and the general public in response to the shock news of his passing, including from dear friend and musician Alistair Izobell.
“Rest sweetly brother ... your voice will forever ring in my heart. Your race is done. You made many hearts smile with your talent and charm.”
Bhemgee rose to fame late in life. He grew up in Kalksteenfontein and later, living in Rocklands, Mitchell’s Plain, he worked as a street sweeper. He was “discovered” by a woman who overheard him singing while he was working and she even offered to pay for his singing lessons.
Bhemgee won SA’s Got Talent in 2010 and won over many hearts with his golden voice. In the years after winning, he said winning the competition turned his life around.
“For 13 years I’ve been unemployed. Those 13 years were the hardest part of my life. I didn’t have opportunities to sing but I never gave up on my dream. I survived. I went through very tough times but I was and I am a believer.”
Following the success of winning the competition, Bhemgee released his debut album titled “Vincero” in November 2011.
Arts and Culture and Sport MEC Anroux Marais said the story of Bhemgee “inspired many South Africans”.
”I am saddened to hear of the passing of James Bhemgee. His story inspired many South Africans to rise above their circumstances and we value his contribution to the musical arts. Our condolences go out to his family, friends and those who worked with him in the industry.”
Simone Heradien, senior manager of communications and brand management at Artscape, also said Bhemgee was a key member of the Artscape family.
“James Bhemgee was a regular on the Artscape stage and often performed at the Rural Outreach Programme concerts, Artscape’s flagship project that empowers youth from outlying communities in towns across the Western Cape.
“To see their faces light up and to hear the uproarious applause when James crooned, remained absolute magic.
“It is such a sad loss when the arts industry loses such an iconic figure and his passing has left a sadness in our heart and he will forever be missed not just by Artscape, the youth across rural towns where he performed, but the entire arts and entertainment industry,” she said.