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Monday, March 21, 2016


Who would have thought that an unlikely name like Pillay would be up in lights in the most popular nite clubs in London and New York in the 50’s and 60’s but that’s exactly what happened when a local lad from Beatrice Street in Durban hit the high notes as a jazz balladeer. Finally, Durban’s prodigal son returns to home base, after all these years, when actress/producer, Jayshree Parasuramen presents The Return of Sonny Pillay at the Blue Lagoon Conference Centre on March 31 at 19h00.

Sonny’s talents first came to the fore as a school boy. His life-long mate, distinguished playwright and author, Ronnie Govender recalls: “I once attended a scouts jamboree at Clairwood Primary School. There was the usual singing of the current English songs when Sonny plucked the strings of his guitar and sang the cowboy song, You are my Sunshine. Okay it might not have called for a straining of the tonsils but even then there was no mistaking the star quality of his voice. We became buddies and in years to come I did my best as a reporter to publicise the shows he appeared in.”

Jayshree Parasuramen explains further: "Although there were no breaks, Sonny stuck doggedly to his dreams. In the 50’s there was absolutely no scope for talented black musicians and singers and it was a wonder that he survived. He grabbed whatever little opportunity there was and made the most of it. The only major avenue was the occasional concert which were poorly attended and funded. There was also the occasional “talent contest”. Sonny won most of them and this brought him to the attention of the impresario, Alfred Herbert who ran a national road show, African Jazz and Variety, featuring top black artistes of the time. It was not surprising that when the experienced showman, Herbert, heard Sonny, “he flipped.” Sonny became the headline act of a cast which included such stellar names as Miriam Makeba who was to eventually marry him, causing a major scandal in the very conservative Indian community.

"But Sonny was to climb even further. The Joburg based Union Artistes, formed to advance the cause of black music, wanted to send the “best black singer in the country” to sing on the overseas circuit in order to expose the damage apartheid was doing to talented musicians and singers in the country. No one was more surprised and excited than Sonny himself when he was chosen by the experts.

"Sonny surprised even himself when he was spotted in an American nite club by the leading recording company, Music Corporation of America. At the height of his career, disaster struck. Sonny fell desperately ill and had to be hospitalised, bringing to an end a career that would have seen him up there with the best. Indeed he was chosen to sing at the club that Frank Sinatra sang in.

"At last, South Africans will have a chance of hearing their prodigal son at the Blue Lagoon Conference Centre on March 31 at 19h00."
Tickets are priced at R300pp which includes supper and a one night only concert with a living legend of the South African Music Industry. Early booking is advised through Jayshree on 083 610 9931 or email