Former SA’s Got Talent winner James Bhemgee may have died a poor man but he leaves behind a rich legacy of caring and humility, says his family.
The country was left in mourning on Wednesday after the 57-year-old opera singer who hails from Kalksteenfontein, suddenly passed away at his home in Cuckoo Street, Rocklands, Mitchells Plain.
James’ house is also the Spes Bona klopskamer, where he had been coaching minstrels for years.
While it’s still unclear how James died, the Daily Voice learned he passed on just before 4am at home.
A resident who lives with James said he was “sick” in bed for two days.
“He wasn’t at the point of receiving dialysis yet but he was suffering from kidney problems,” the man said.
“He didn’t complain of any pains (on Tuesday) but (Wednesday) around 3am, his eyes were going to the back of his head and we knew something was wrong.
While another resident tried to rush him to hospital by car, he died on the way.”
The former street sweeper, known as the “Singing Dustman”, rose to fame when he won Season 2 of SA’s Got Talent in 2010.
But according to his brother, Pastor Alfonso Schilder, the father of six did not benefit from his fame in the long run and left the world without a penny in his pocket.
He says the family needs help laying James to rest as the tenor had been unemployed at the time of his death.
Schilder tells the Daily Voice: “Unfortunately James died a poor man, he had nothing to leave behind and so we as the family are trying to get assistance to bury him.
He adds: “James was a people’s person and always gave his last to someone in need.
“He always shared and that was his loving and caring nature, unfortunately that is also why he was taken for granted.
“The legacy he leaves behind is one of caring, he was a humble person.
“He always just wanted to sing. He could have been far economically, if he saw the importance of the business side to his gift and that’s the sad part of my brother’s legacy, he poured himself out entertaining people, but he died poor.”
James’ only daughter Roshana Groep, 33, from Kalksteenfontein, says she last spoke to her dad on Sunday.
“I called him Sunday afternoon. He said he was tired, I asked him to come for lunch, he said he would but he never arrived.
“I knew he had high blood pressure and was on medication for that, but I also know that he had kidney issues but that wasn’t anything serious, according to what he told me.
“It’s all still so unreal, it hasn’t sunk in yet, I will really miss my daddy.”
James leaves behind one daughter and five sons as well as four grandchildren.
He was the second eldest of 11 children, and had eight sisters and two brothers.
His father died two years ago and one brother passed away last year.
Tributes for the singer poured in on social media from industry colleagues and friends.
Entertainer Alistair Izobell posted on Facebook: “Rest sweetly brother…Your voice will forever ring in my heart. Your race is done. You made many hearts smile with your talent and charm.”
Actor Muneel Al Abdullah Jacobs wrote: “Still hard to believe. Working with him coaching choirs and creating music was an honour. RIP my dear friend your voice was that of angel and now you gonna sing for them.”
Singer Madeegha Anders wrote: “RIP James Bhemgee. May your Dear Soul Rest In Peace. The ALMIGHTY knows best.”
Entertainment icon Rashid Lombard wrote: “Oh so sad, condolences to the family and loved ones.”
James was first discovered on the streets of Cape Town by a woman who overheard him singing while he was working as a street sweeper.
She was so impressed that she paid for his singing lessons.
James also performed with Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins and was part of the South African leg of Andre Rieu’s tour with his Johann Strauss Orchestra.
After winning SA’s Got Talent, James said: “For 13 years I’ve been unemployed. Those 13 years were the hardest part of my life. I didn’t have opportunities to sing but I never gave up on my dream. I survived. I went through very tough times but I was and I am a believer.”
James released his debut album Vincero in November 2011.
Pastor Alfonso says sadly, the family does not have money to give the singer a dignified send-off: “We need a venue, transport, sound, live streaming resources, and so on.
“We are looking to have the funeral in Mitchells Plain because he lived here for a long time.
“We were approached by a funeral parlour who has offered to do his funeral.”
He adds the funeral arrangements have not been finalised yet.
To assist, contact Pastor Alfonso on 072 772 0022.