Jan. 19, 1995 – Dec. 19, 2017
Thapelo Imani Hill, a traditional African percussionist and dancer, died Dec. 19 in Erie County Medical Center, five days after he was wounded in a shooting outside a pizzeria on Niagara Street. He was 22.
Born in Buffalo, his father was African-American and his mother came from Botswana. His first name, Thapelo, means “prayer” in his mother’s language, Tswana. His middle name is the Swahili word for “faith.” He was home schooled.
He began to develop his musical skills at the age of 4, attending classes and sessions with local percussion master Umbopha Emile Latimer.
He then became one of the youth taught by Jomo Akono, BaBa Issa and Marlowe Wright and studied with Senegalese drummers Mor Thiarn, the principal drummer for Katherine Dunhan, and Raymone Sylla, Mbaye D’Diaye and Alessane Sar.
By the time he was 6, he was noted for his discipline on and off stage as a musician and dancer at workshops, festivals and arts and cultural presentations.
Many of Mr. Hills’s activities were associated with the Langston Hughes Center, where his father was director. He took part in many events, including the JuneTeenth Festival and First Night Kwaanza.
He was a member of the Ujima Company Youth Theater Workshop, directed by Lorna Hill, and appeared in “And Bid Him Sing,” an annual spring production showcasing the talents of the company.
As an actor, he appeared in the 2010 film, “Erie,” about African-Americans in communities near Lake Erie. In November, he performed in the cast of “Free Fred Brown!” at the Paul Robeson Theatre.
He also worked in collaboration with local singer, songwriter and actress Zoe Scruggs.
He studied classical African civilizations, was a lover of African and Caribbean dishes and was a budding chef.
Survivors include his parents, Michael and Kefilwe; two brothers, Amilcar and Tshenolo "Tosh"; two sisters, Vivian Zola and Lucy Zola; and a grandmother, Dorothy Hill.
A celebration of his life will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 6 in Asbury Hall, 341 Delaware Ave.