The Manhattan Brothers was one of the most important and influential musical groups to have come out of South Africa. The group appeared regularly on South African television and radio in the 1940s and 50s and influenced the general population with their speech, attitude, style of dress, and lifestyle. They are the first South African musical group with a record in the Billboard’s Top 100 chart – Lovely Lies. Lovely Lies peaked at number 45 on the Billboard chart in March of 1956. The Manhattan Brothers have continued through their music to influence a new generation of South African musicians. In October 1999, during the celebration of their first CD in Sandton, South Africa, a musical group known as the Junior Manhattan brothers, made a performance in tribute to the group’s influence and contribution to the development of music in South Africa.
Manhattan Brothers musical groups was formed in the early 1930s, when four vocalists namely Joe Mogotsi, Rufus Khoza, Ronnie Majola Sehume and Nathan Dambuzza Mdledle met while attending Pimville Government School. They recorded their first singles in 1948. With that the group became popular in their home country. Despite their fame and popularity, the group struggled under apartheid, the state government of South Africa constantly deny them the opportunity to perform abroad. Responding to why he thought the state government denied them on several occasion the opportunity to perform abroad, Joe Mogotsi told interviewer in 1999 that they were denied because they refused to perform at the Van Riebeeck Festival in Cape Town.
The Manhattan Brothers had in their group, some South African finest musicians at that time and arguably of all time. The group was led by composer and saxophonist Mackay Davashe, featured saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi, drummer General Duze and pianist Sol Klaaste. After some time, the group was renamed the Jazz Dazzlers when Hugh Masakela and Jonas gwangwa joined them.
In the early 1950s, the Manhattan Brothers added a female vocalist, Miriam Makeba. Their first recording with Miriam Makeba, ”Lakutshona llanga” was released in 1953 and in 1958, the group appeared in a musical, King Kong, with Nathan Dambuzza Mdledle playing the role of a black African boxer named Ezekiel “King Kong” Dlemani. Joe Mogotsi, Rufus Khoza and Majola Sehume played the role of gangsters and Miriam Makeba played the female lead act. The musical was very successful and it attracted a performance for the group in England in 1961. However, due to the change in government in South Africa at that time, the group could not return to South Africa and they remained in England where they continued performing. Majola Sehume left the group within this period and was replaced by Walter Loate.
By the 1900s, the Manhattan popularity had begun to wane, although, Joe Mogotsi remained the leader of the London based group called Joe Mogotsi and the Manhattans, Rufus Khoza and Majola Sehume retired from music and Nathan Mdledle had died.