In the early 1950s, at the age of 14, Shunna ‘Sonny’ Pillay met impresario, Pumpy Naidoo, who asked him what he wanted to ‘do when he grew up’. When Pillay replied, ‘Be a singer,’ Naidoo gave him a gig. And then many more.
That was the first step in a journey to fame which spread from Durban to the UK and finally to the Big Apple, New York. For 62 years, Shunna Pillay travelled the world. returning to the US.
Pillay sang in Alfred Herbert’s African Jazz and Variety alongside such luminaries as Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and Dorothy Masuka. At one point he was married to Miriam Makeba, which caused a major stir in South Africa’s conservative Indian community.
Pillay became part of the entertainment scene in South Africa at the highest level and the Union of Southern Artists sent Pillay to the UK to further his career. In London, he was put on the books of the elite Jack Hilton agency, which saw him performing in some of the most famous theatres, night clubs and festivals.
Pillay was spotted by a talent scout for the Music Corporation of America (MCA), the largest entertainment company in the world. He was invited to New York but, at the height of his popularity, disaster struck when Pillay fell desperately ill and had to be hospitalised, prematurely ending a career that would have seen him up there with the best.
Pillay was married to Carole Manchester Pillay until her death in October 2006.
Shunna Pillay died on 17 September 2019 at the age of 87.