The Creative Feel team is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Dawn Lindberg. Having partnered with her and the Naledi Theatre Awards for many years, we were witness to both her unbridled passion for the arts, and her indefatigable commitment to South African arts and culture as a whole.
Lindberg, founder and CEO of the Naledi Theatre Awards and trailblazer of the South African arts, passed away on the evening of 7 December 2020 due to Covid-19 related illness. She was 75.
In addition to her tireless work on the Naledi Theatre Awards, Lindberg was a South African household name who tirelessly advocated for the arts and for freedom of expression. In her early career, Lindberg was an independent theatre producer and entertainer (with her husband, Des) for 52 years. Des and Dawn Lindberg were the first to produce multi-racial theatre in 1973 (Godspell) and the first to successfully fight the banning in the Supreme Court. They were appointed Living Legends by the Minister of Arts and Culture in 2016.
A creative force for change
Durban-born Dawn Lindberg was one of seven children. She was educated at Parktown Girls’ High School and after matric, won an AFS scholarship and spent a year in Detroit, Michigan. A highlight of the trip was meeting the late President John F. Kennedy on the lawns of the White House.
She then studied Fine Arts at Wits University, and in 1962 she met her husband and long-time partner in music and theatre, Des Lindberg, who was studying Law at the time. ‘He was like a gentle Viking,’ she recalls, ‘tall, with blond hair falling over his eyes, and a guitar slung over his back.’
In 1965, Des and Dawn Lindberg were married; they then hit the road (literally) when they bought a caravan and toured South Africa and Zimbabwe, visiting dorps and towns with their legendary show, Folk on Trek. ‘There was no TV in those days, so to get known you had to go on the road and meet the people,’ said Dawn.
Their first album, Folk on Trek, was promptly banned on the grounds of obscenity because of dubious lyrics to the nursery rhyme, ‘Mary had a little lamb’, and the Negro Spiritual, ‘Dese bones gonna rise again’. They went on appeal but lost the case and all copies of the album were ordered to be destroyed – but some die-hards hid them and thankfully, there are still copies in existence today.
The couple then embarked on a plan to help make a significant change to the country’s political thinking and in 1973 they produced the ground-breaking musical, Godspell, the first multiracial show to be staged publicly in SA.
In addition to her work for the country’s arts and culture through her music, Lindberg’s work in theatre will remain one of her most vital contributions to South Africa. Through the creation and nurturing of the internationally recognised Naledi Theatre Awards, which has honoured over 300 artists and theatre makers and awarded over 60 Lifetime Achievement Awards, Lindberg has undeniably changed South African theatre and performing arts for the better.
‘New voices are telling our own stories’
In a recent interview with Creative Feel, when asked her thoughts on how the country’s arts industry has changed over the years, Lindberg responded: ‘Theatre and the arts are much more reflective of our current society and the demographics of the practitioners. New voices are telling our own stories and expressing our unique cultures through dance, music and the visual arts.’
The Creative Feel team extends its condolences to Dawn’s family and to her partner, in every sense of the word, Des Lindberg. Thank you, Dawn, for all the work you have done for South Africa, and for the arts.