Music world loses a singular light: Sixto Rodriguez


A documentary about his life brought the music and bio of Sixto Diaz Rodriguez to American audiences in 2012. However, the songs of Rodriguez, the name he performed under, were hits in Southern Hemisphere countries. South African and Australian audiences took to the music of the American who protested with folk rock’s poetry and rock ‘n’ roll’s rage. Rodriguez passed away Aug. 8, 2023. According to most accounts, he was 81 years of age.

The mysterious, the super-talented Rodriguez

Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, Rodriguez was familiar with blue collar work. After his album sales stalled in the early 1970s, he returned to construction and demolition work. Unbeknownst to him, fans on the other side of the world were finding his work and loving it. According to the New York Times and elsewhere, liberal fans in South Africa found his music spoke to their feelings about apartheid. After years of not hearing from Rodriguez, rumors swirled. According to the (now late) director of “Searching for Sugar Man,” in an NPR interview, some people claimed that he had committed suicide onstage, others that he had died in other ways. But the rumors were just that; Rodriguez was fine and living in Detroit.

Part of the singer and guitarist’s mystique stemmed from his habit of performing with his back to the audience. And fans accepted this quirk. People clamored for more and more of Rodriguez. All of a sudden, four decades after his debut, Rodriguez had the fame that had escaped him.

While the film “Searching for Sugar Man” showed Rodriguez’s daughters, most reports of his passing note that there is no information about survivors. Further, some media outlets mention his age as 80, others list it as 81. Some sources cite his birthdate as July 10, 1942, while others only provide the year. It seems that there will always something about Rodriguez that will remain mysterious or at least unclear.

However, reports that his death was noted on the website, The information was provided by his granddaughter, Amanda Kennedy. Rodriguez also reportedly is survived by a wife, Konny Rodriguez.

What is more clear than Rodriguez’s biography is the body of work he leaves behind. Songs like “Cold Fact,” and “I Wonder” (both from 1970) are classic Rodriguez. They bear the stamp of his forthright lyrics and his unique voice.

For those who missed “Searching for Sugar Man,” the documentary is a good place to start to get acquainted with the legend that is Rodriguez.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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