Aboriginal musician and highest-selling Indigenous artist in history, Dr G. Yunupingu of the Gumatj clan of Elcho Island, has passed away aged 46 after a long battle with illness.
Born in 1971 in the incredibly remote Galiwin’ku community on Elcho Island – located just off the coast of Arnhem Land – Dr G. Yunupingu was known for the astonishingly tender tone of his powerful singing voice. He effortlessly entranced audiences right from his 2008 debut self-titled album, which won two ARIA Awards and three Deadly Awards, including Album of the Year.
Dr G. Yunupingu was born blind and never learned to read braille or use any other overt visual aid. He was captivated by home-made percussion instruments as a child, and later taught himself to play the guitar. After spending several years playing with Yothu Yindi, he formed the Saltwater Band and then met producer Michael Hohnen, who became his close friend. The pair recorded the debut album and it went to number one on the independent charts, although it contained very little English language – Dr G. Yunupingu was singing mostly in the Yolngu dialects of Gälpu, Gumatj and Djambarrpuynu. He also played the majority of the instruments, with his own mastery of drums, keyboards, didgeridoo and guitar (Dr G. Yunupingu played a right-hand-strung guitar left-handed) ensuring he had total control over the songs he created.
My dear friend Dr Yunupingu – a truly great musician – is gone. Very sad news. Too young, so much left to give. Heart goes out to family.
— Peter Garrett (@pgarrett) July 25, 2017
2009 sent Dr G. Yunupingu’s profile soaring. In addition to sitting as the subject of an Archibald Prize-winning portrait by Guy Maestri, Dr G. Yunupingu was the Northern Territory recipient of the Australian of the Year, and also won Best New Independent Artist, Best Independent Blues/Roots Release and Best Independent Release at the AIR (Australian Independent Record) Awards.
Dr G. Yunupingu spent the following few years performing across the world – including for US President Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II – but always came back to his home on Elcho Island, where his beloved mother and aunts still lived. In 2012 he was awarded an Honourary Doctorate of Music by the University of Sydney.
Rip Brother Dr G Yunupingu, you were a light among us love to his Family & the Galiwin’ku community NT pic.twitter.com/drVp5sUasu
— Troy Cassar-Daley (@troycassardaley) July 25, 2017
As well as great musical success, Dr G. Yunupingu also gave back to his community as the driving force behind the G. Yunupingu Foundation, creating opportunities for young people across the Northern Territory. As such, his legacy as a musician and community leader will continue as his life’s work continues its positive impact on Elcho Island, the Northern Territory, Australia and the world.
Vale Dr G. Yunupingu.
Due to cultural sensitivities, STACK has not included images or the first name of Dr Yunupingu