Famed musician, freedom fighter and evangelist Sonny Okosuns died Saturday, May 24 at Howard University Teaching Hospital, Washington, D.C., at the age of 61. Considered as one of Nigeria’s leading artists, Mr. Okosuns succumbed after a prolonged battle with colon cancer.
The anti-apartheid singer turned evangelist and praise singer was considered one of Africa’s top Afro-reggae musicians, performing with the likes of Jimmy Cliff, Eric Donaldson, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. He was perhaps best known for hits like "African Soldier," "Papa’s Land" and the song "Fire in Soweto" that railed against the South Africa’s whites-only rule in the 1970s. Dedicated to the struggles for independence and freedom, Mr. Okosuns often turned his music into praises the continent’s heroes like Nelson Mandela from South Africa, Agostino Neto from Angola and Nigeria’s own Nnamdi Azikiwe.
Born in Enugu on January 1, 1947, Sonny was drawn to music and saw it as a means for change. Starting his first band in 1964 called the Postmen, the self-taught musician met little success. He later went on to join Sir Victor Uwaifo’s band. In 1972, Sonny formed another group called Paperback. Eventually renaming the band Ozziddi, Sonny was on the road to success with his particular brand of liberation and unity songs. The group released their first album in 1976 called Ozziddism which featured the hit "Help."
Always dedicated to the principle of peace, Okosuns found his musical career waning in the late 1980s and the singer found himself turning to gospel and evangelism. In 1994, he again hit the limelight as the Evangelist Okosuns with the award-winning gospel recording Songs of Praise. Firmly rooted in faith, Mr. Okosuns founded the House of Prayers Church in Lagos.
Mr. Okosuns was also the founder and former president of the Performing Association of Nigeria (PMAN).
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced by the family.