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Curtain closes as tenor James Bhemgee is laid to rest

James Bhemgee was laid to rest on Saturday. Picture: Believe Nyakudjara

James Bhemgee was laid to rest on Saturday. Picture: Believe Nyakudjara

Published Jul 3, 2022


Even though the voice of singer James Bhemgee has fallen silent, his legacy can still be heard loud and clear.

The 57-year-old, who once worked as a street sweeper, rose to fame when he won the second season of SA’s Got Talent in 2010.

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Bhemgee, who died at his home on 22 June, was greeted by over 300 mourners who filled up Orion Church International in Rocklands, Mitchells Plain.

Among those who attended his funeral service was local gospel sensation Neville D.

Neville D, who paid tribute to Bhemgee, spoke of fond memories of as a 12-year-old boy playing in Gesiggie Street in Kalksteenfontein on the Cape Flats.

“I was 12 at the time, and James would always speak to us as children about not letting where you grow up determine your future. He would talk about music and he would sing, and people would laugh. But look at what he did – going from a dirt truck to boarding flights to Germany.

Gospel artist Neville D paid tribute to Bhemgee, whom he knew since his childhood. Picture: Leon Lestrade/ANA

“He was a true inspiration to me and many other children. His favourite word was “klas” (classy), and it's a word I will always take with me. I will always try to do things in a klas manner.”

Bhemgee leaves behind five brothers, 10 sisters, five children, and four grandchildren.

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Mary Ann Goedemann, Bhemgee’s niece, said he was his family’s and the community’s greatest role model.

“James’s mother passed away when he was five years old. When he turned six he was adopted by his family and they moved to Kalksteenfontein. There were 15 children living under one roof.

“James joined the choir at the age of 14. When he started working at the City of Cape Town, they found him singing, and from there on his legacy began. He travelled around South Africa and the world as a tenor.”

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Pastor Alfonso Schilder, Bhemgee’s brother, officiated at the service. Picture: Leon Lestrade/ANA

Goedemann joked that Bhemgee’s grandmother nicknamed him “Jakkals” because he was a charmer and a ladies man.

“But that didn’t stop him from sharing with the underprivileged in the street, and by 2010 everyone else got to encounter James when he won the competition, something that never went to his head.”

His brother, Pastor Alfonso Schilder, who led the service, said Bhemgee’s name was now known by everyone.

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“He was loved by many and hated and misunderstood by few, but I can confidently say those who hated on him did not know him.

“He had good and bad publicity, but this morning we are here to celebrate the life of my brother.”

Weekend Argus