This 19-year-old South African singer turned an unexpected tragedy into beautiful music and got thousands of plays on Spotify

2018-07-20 06:01
Desmond John

Cape Town – When he was only 16 years old, singer and songwriter Desmond John worked with Kendrick Dean – producer of hit songs for Chris Brown, Justin Bieber and Usher as well as a slew of other big names in the American music industry.

His first manager Tip Green set it all up for him. He had taken the first step on a glamorous path to super-stardom, but then tragedy hit, and Desmond had to work through it to make some beautiful music all his own. 


It all started in 2014 when Desmond John (then 15) was in Johannesburg, recording some songs with a friend in a local studio, and “just delving into some music, never thinking it would become a career”. As luck would have it, a visiting American comedian who was on tour in SA happened to be in the studio, as he had forgotten his mobile charger, and overheard some of the youngster’s material when he went back to collect it. He was immediately impressed, and this chance meeting set in motion the wheels that took Desmond John to America a few months later.

Desmond John

In December 2014, Desmond John and his dad visited Atlanta for the first, where they met his soon-to-be first manager Tip Green, who in turn introduced Desmond John to producer DJ Toomp - the man who discovered rapper T.I. and produced for the likes of Kanye West, Mariah Carey, Jay Z, Rick Ross and many others. Toomp was impressed by the talent and Desmond John was taken under the wing of the prestigious team as part of a development deal, where he lived with Green for two years and was mentored by the best in the business.

Says Desmond John: “I’ll be eternally grateful to Tip for what he did for me and I wouldn’t exchange the experience for anything in the world.”


Completely out of the blue, Green fell ill, but Desmond John was not aware of the severity of what was lying ahead. While he was back in South Africa visiting his parents, he received the news that Green had died.

“It was incredibly painful. I lost not only a manager but a best friend. It was a very dark period in my life. I devoted my soul into songwriting, which was definitely my saving grace and the best therapy possible. I devoted myself to my music and the songs just flowed.

"Through this process I grew as an artist and developed my own unique and authentic sound, representing exactly who I am as an artist, and released my first EP I’m Not Angry, Just Disappointed,” states Desmond John. 

Desmond John

After his first two singles, When I Saw You (which Desmond John co-wrote with five-time Grammy Award winner, Kuk Harrell) and You Don’t Have to Worry; the young star is now back with I Mean That (also self-written and produced). I Mean That is the first single off I’m Not Angry, Just Disappointed.

The singer’s music has been listened to 125 000 times on Spotify alone.


The release of I Mean That also follows Desmond John’s tour in the UK in January and February of this year, where he performed at various venues across the country.


Desmond John was born on 28 December 1998 in Frankfurt, Germany to a British father and South African mother.

Desmond John

(Photos: Leeroy Duke / Ideas Inventory/Supplied)

At age four, Desmond John and his family relocated to South Africa; they then moved to Johannesburg when Desmond was 6, followed by a move to Cape Town when he was 13.

At age 14, Desmond John was playing football and was scouted to go and play soccer for an academy in Munich, Germany, for a year.

A mere six months later, a chance meeting in a studio in Johannesburg led to Desmond John moving to Atlanta, Georgia in the USA.

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