Born in 1942, Sixto Rodriguez is a Detroit-born singer and songwriter. He is the sixth child from a Mexican immigrant family. His father came to America during the 1920’s, where he would spend most of his time working in Detroit industries. The early days of his life, as well as the life of his father, were clear inspirations in many of his songs.
Many have claimed that Sixto has one of the most unusual careers in rock history. His early career in the United States did not gain much traction. However, unbeknownst to him, his music had gained a massive following in South Africa. It is said that he sold more records in South Africa than Elvis. Many of his songs were used during Apartheid protests.
It was several years before he learned of his success in South Africa. Fans from the country eventually reached out and made an effort to locate him after rumors of his suicide had spread through the country. Their journey to find him was documented and released as a film entitled “Searching for Sugar Man”. The film helped him earned recognition in the United States and re-spark his career.
Rise To Global Fame
Sixto’s music career began in 1967 when he recorded his first single, “I’ll Slip Away”. Three years later, he would sign on with Sussex Records and record two albums. Unfortunately, the albums sold only a few copies in the United States. Sussex dropped Sixto from the label and eventually closed down entirely in 1975.
A year later, in 1976, he purchased a home in Detroit where he continued to live until 2013. He performed a few brief tours and concerts outside of the country in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Sixto also attempted to run for local political offices on several occasions but was never elected.
His fame was nearly non-existent in the United States, but his albums did gain a lot of attention in Australia and South Africa. At first, these countries were importing copies of the albums from America. Those albums eventually sold out. An Australian record company purchased the rights to his existing songs. The record label used those rights to re-release his two studio albums as well as a compilation album.
The compilation album reached platinum status on the South Africa music charts. His music was incredibly important in the country at the time, often being used in anti-Apartheid gatherings and protests. It’s believed that he sold more albums than Elvis Presley and his work was often compared to Bob Dylan.
Sixto did not learn of his success in South Africa until 1997 when his daughter discovered a local fan-made website. He eventually traveled to South Africa and led a massive tour for thousands of fans. He would return to South Africa several times for additional tours.
The Documentary Released
The documentary, Searching For Sugar Man, is partially responsible for Sixto’s rise to fame in the United States. The documentary focuses on two fans who want to discover if the Sixto’s rumored suicide was true and if not, where the musician now lived. The film took place during the late 1990’s but was officially released in 2013.
Searching For Sugar Man won several awards in the United States. It was a critical success and helped put Sixto back in the American spotlight.
Today, Rodriguez continues to tour in many parts of the world. He performs shows in the United States, Australia, England, New Zealand, and South Africa. His music has been covered by several well-known bands, such as the Dave Mathews Band. He recently released a live album in 2016 and has stated that he has hopes for a new studio album in the future.