Musicians: Millionaires to basket cases

2012-03-12 15:57
Hugh Masekela
There are always rumours of musicians dying broke. The public is always left wondering how someone who made millions died a pauper - but they do.

Jazz rock star Hugh Masekela, who - judging by his autobiography - must have nine lives, recently admitted to having blown around $50m in his career.

He told the Mail and Guardian: "I'm the kind of person who goes on with life. I was one of the smallest benders of the era. But I've gone on with my life. This was more than 40 years ago, you know."

Bra Hugh is one of the lucky few.  He is still alive. There have yet to be reports of any financial struggles.

Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and our own Brenda Fassie have been rumoured to be amongst those who have died penniless.
However, subsequent reports have emerged that not every cent is snorted away on tour buses.

'Flat broke'

In the case of Michael Jackson, it was reported that his estate was $400m into the red.

His lawyers later told Radaronline:  “Assets consist of real and personal property exceeding $500 million and the estate is solvent.”

The Daily Mail also reported that Whitney Houston was “flat broke” before she passed away. According to the British newspaper the I LookTo You singer had signed a $100m, six-album deal with Arista records.

However, she still kept her two mansions and had received an advance on the deal money. She was later buried with more than £300 000 worth of jewellery.

African pop singer Brenda Fassie’s poison, like many musicians, was drugs. She had been broke before and was rescued by Chico Twala. She came back to sell millions of albums and gave us hits like Vulindlela. It later transpired that she too, had money tied somewhere to something. After a prolonged legal battle her family was paid what was due to her.

Mad partying or mismanagement?

Musicians blow a huge chunk of their earnings on their often terrible lifestyles but a lot of their fortune is lost in mismanagement. Whether this is through their own doing or that of another party is a question that lingers.

Rolling Stone Magazine Editor-in-Chief, Miles Keylock says it is just business; nothing personal.

"A record label is a business.  They are in the business of making money out of artists. As writer Hunter S Thompson warned: 'The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs'."

Keylock thinks that too many young artists sign away their living to record companies or publishers who do not have their best interests at heart.

'Owning your own music'

Rather, he encourages young artists to follow the example of someone like veteran House DJ, Oskido. "Again, it all depends on education, self-knowledge and ultimately owning your own music. Take Oskido, for instance – who co-founded Kalawa Jazmee with Don Laka - his success, has been built on the fact that he owns his own music and has mentored a generation of younger artists to do the same."

Once all is said and done, it seems the ball falls right back in the court of the performers. It is their duty to ensure that they do not have go back on tour, desperately trying to make a living, at an age when they should be enjoying their twilight years.

Keylock concludes by saying: "Get wise. Get educated. And never sign a contract unless you understand it! If people can make money off you, they will."

It is up to the individual musician to manage their fortune.

Many musicians have died being paupers even though they lived millionaire lifestyles, but it can't all be their fault - it takes many parties to make a star. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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