Dr. G. Yunupingu 1971-2017
The music world lost a legend last month. Blind from birth, Dr. G. Yunupingu has been revered as one of the most important figures in Australian music history. His music has reached well beyond his native Elcho Island, selling over half a million albums worldwide. It must be noted that out of respect for Aboriginal custom, his given name and images are absent from coverage of his passing last month at the age of 46, after a long illness.
The highest selling Australian Indigenous artist in history, Dr. G Yunupingu emerged from the Galiwin’ku community off the coast of Arnhem, earning a platinum album in Australia with his debut. Singing in his native language, he went on to reach silver in the UK, and chart across the world, singing for audiences including Queen Elizabeth II and Barack Obama. His singing could be heard both in Yolngu languages including Gälpu, Gumatj or Djambarrpuynum as well as in English.
Known most perhaps for his voice, he counted among his fans, not surprisingly, Elton John, Sting and Bjork. Yunupingu was a veritable virtuoso, with skills extending across multiple instruments. He played keyboard, drums, guitar (a right-hand strung guitar which he played left handed), and didgeridoo.
Though his meteoric success took him far and wide from his Elcho Island origins, Dr. G. Yununpingu never strayed far from his community, serving as the backbone of the Yunupingu Foundation, serving young people in the Northern Territory.
Joining many in public tribute, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took to social media, sharing “Dr. G. Yunupingu was a remarkable Australian sharing Yolngu language with the world through music. Prayers for Galiwin’ku & family & friends.”
Mark Grose, managing director of Yunupingu’s label Skinnyfish Music, reflected “In this day of too much noise, Dr. G. Yunupingu showed us that music is a powerful force for reconciliation. One of the greatest achievements any of us can have is to touch the hearts of others. And this is what Dr. G. Yunupingu did over and over and over again.”
Stephen Green, Director of SGC Media which represents Play MPE in Australia said: “Dr. G. Yunupingu was more important than just a musician. His work bridged a chasm in our nation, creating a window for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to begin to understand each other. His legacy is as big as his heart and the ripples of his work will continue to be felt in this country and around the world for decades to come”.