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Orbituary: Stella Magaba, voluptuous singer with stage presence

02 October 2016 - 02:00 By CHRIS BARRON

Stella Magaba, who has died in Cape Town at the age of 49, was a larger-than-life self-taught singer and actress who captivated audiences in South Africa and abroad She was best known for anchoring the hugely popular all-female group 3 Tons of Fun, which over some eight years performed disco, swing, Motown and everything from The Pointer Sisters, The Supremes, tributes to Diana Ross, Gladys Knight and Bette Midler, to The Click Song, Meadowlands and Pata Pata.Magaba, Lillian Khumalo and Marguerita Freeks came together after auditioning unsuccessfully for a show that was going to Spain.They were considered too large for the parts on offer, which required them to fit into hot pants.But director Glen Swart was so struck by their wonderful voices and vivacious, voluptuous and cheerful personalities that he knew he couldn't let them go.And so he came up with the idea for 3 Tons of Fun, which opened at On Broadway in Cape Town and performed to rave reviews in England, Switzerland and the Seychelles and for big corporate events around the country.Magaba's The Chair Song was a showstopper at On Broadway. The first time she performed it the chair she was sitting on fell apart. As she rolled onto the floor she held onto her mic and didn't miss a beat. She made it look so natural that the audience thought it was part of the act.Her other showstopper was Midnight Train to Georgia. She brought the house down with those two songs every time.After years at On Broadway, 3 Tons were invited to join Madame Zingara, where they continued performing locally and overseas as "The Original 3 Tons of Fun".Magaba left the group about two years ago after being diagnosed with breast cancer.She was born in a small village near Fort Beaufort, Eastern Cape, on October 4 1966 and moved to stay with her aunt in Gugulethu when she was two. She began singing in her Methodist church choir when she was eight.She matriculated at Sizamile High, later known as Oscar Mpetha High, in 1987. She was discovered during an Artscape visit to the school to seek out new talent in the townships.In the beginning she loved gospel and singing along with the radio. She never had a lesson in her life and couldn't read music.The first of several career highlights was appearing at the age of 24 in a revival of the musical Ipi Ntombi, which toured Australia and New Zealand.She sang in the rock musical Hair when it was finally unbanned in South Africa in the mid-'90s. She was in the trio that sang White Boys and brought the house down.She played the part of Queenie in the musical Showboat, which played before ecstatic audiences in Nuremberg and Oslo, and was in the Jazzart production of song and dance show Guardian of the Flame with a stellar cast including the great diva Sibongile Khumalo. She sang How Long with Khumalo and former Ella Mental lead vocalist Heather Mac singing backup.She also did experimental, cutting-edge Jazzart productions like the intense Raw Dog Night, which went on to the Grahamstown festival, and Fall and Catch, Catch and Fall at restaurant venues and clubs in Cape Town.Another career highlight for her was playing Xoli in the SABC2 sitcom Fishy Fêshuns. She was the domineering girlfriend of Joe Mafela's character in the popular Madam & Eve TV series, and did many TV commercials including one where she is shown paddling a canoe in a dam with, as she put it, "another plus-size lady".Although she fought a constant and losing battle against her weight, Magaba was perfectly comfortable in her skin. Audiences loved her pizzazz and warmth on stage, the extraordinary quality of her raw, untrained soprano voice and her infectious enthusiasm.She sang as if every performance was a dream come true.Magaba is survived by her son, Blessing, 13, and daughter, Tshidi, 23.1966-2016..

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