Music poorer without Lee

Patience Bambalele

Patience Bambalele

Ghanaian music icon George Lee, who died on Tuesday of ALS, a motor neuron disease, was a well-respected person.

Lee - a celebrated singer-songwriter, producer and arranger - died at his home in Lorentzville, south of Johannesburg. His wife Andrea Larnyoh-Lee described him as a fighter. She said he had been bedridden since November.

Born Kwame Narh Kojo Larnyoh in Ghana in 1938, Lee's international music career began when he was just 18.

"It has certainly never been easy to be a musician in Africa at any time, especially where and when I grew up in the then Gold Coast. Training the ear meant developing a capacity to listen - concentrate. As young as 10, I used to walk the beach with my brother's flute and blow until I got dizzy," Lee said in a statement before he died.

He was a band leader of the Messengers, which became famous in the 1960s. Lee also discovered that he had a strong passion for the theatre. He co-adapted the opera music show, The Mikado, which became a worldwide musical hit.

In South Africa, Lee wrote, arranged, directed and performed the music for Kweku Ananse, a musical play that introduced Ghanaian folklore to South African theatre-goers. He also worked with Khaba Mkhize in his show Pity!Maritzburg. Histimeless music has been recorded by artists all over the world, including by Johnny Nash in the US.

Due to his versatility, Lee found himself working with artists such as Bob Marley in London and in the US. He appeared in a major Hollywood movie, A Good Man in Africa.

He came to SA in 1990 where he mentored artists such as Jimmy Dludlu, whom he took under his wing at 18.

His mentoring also benefited the youth in Durban high schools and Alexandra in Joburg.

Lee will be cremated at a private ceremony today. A memorial service will be held on Sunday from 3pm at the Brahma Kumari Inner Space Centre in Observatory.