Rodriguez died last night at age 81 after suffering from a stroke back in February. Born Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, the Detroit singer/songwriter faded from public view after releasing two albums in the 1970s. But his music found an audience in Australia, New Zealand and southern parts of Africa unbeknownst to him. He bought a run-down house in Detroit and became a political activist, working to help the city’s impoverished citizens.
Meanwhile a compilation of his music, At His Best went platinum in South Africa with his song “Sugar Man” covered by South African band Just Jinger and Scottish musician Paolo Nutini. But it was widely rumored Rodriguez had committed suicide during a concert in the 1970s. It wasn’t until his daughter came across a website devoted to him in 1997 that he became aware of his overseas success.
In 2012, Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul debuted his documentary Searching for Sugar Man about a pair of South African fans trying to track down their idol. The film won an Oscar in 2013 and Rodriguez finally found success in the U.S., performing on both Letterman and Leno.
Watch Rodriguez perform at the Paste Ruins at the Newport Folk Festival:
And listen to Rodriguez’s Daytrotter session below: