Sixto Diaz Rodriguez (also known as Rodríguez or Jesús Rodríguez; born July 10, 1942) is an American folk musician from Detroit, Michigan. His career initially proved short lived, with two little-sold albums in the early 1970s and two Australian concert tours. Unknown to him, however, his work became extremely successful and influential in South Africa, and continued to retain a loyal following in Australia. According to the film-makers of the documentary about him, Searching for Sugar Man, at one time he was arguably more famous than Elvis Presley in South Africa, though he was mistakenly rumored there to have committed suicide.
In the 1990s, determined South African fans managed to find and contact him, which led to an unexpected revival of his musical career. This is told in the 2012 Academy Award–winning documentary film Searching for Sugar Man, which helped give Rodriguez a measure of fame in his home country.
On May 9, 2013, Rodriguez received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from his alma mater, Wayne State University (WSU), in Detroit.
Rodriguez lives in Detroit's historic Woodbridge neighborhood, which he is seen walking through in Searching for Sugar Man.
Rodriguez was born in 1942 in Detroit, Michigan. He was the sixth child of working-class parents. He was named Sixto (pronounced "Seez-too") because he was their sixth child. His father had immigrated to the United States from Mexico in the 1920s; his mother was also from Mexico. They had joined a large wave of Mexicans who came to the midwest to work in Detroit's industries. Mexican immigrants at that time faced both intense alienation and marginalization. In most of his songs, Rodriguez takes a political stance on the difficulties that faced the inner city poor.
Despite his poor background, Rodriguez earned a Bachelor of Philosophy from Wayne State University's Monteith College in 1981.
In 1967, using the name Rod Riguez, he released a single, "I'll Slip Away", with the small label Impact. He did not record again for three years, until he signed with Sussex Records, an offshoot of Buddah Records. He then changed his professional name to simply Rodriguez. He recorded two albums with Sussex, Cold Fact in 1970 and Coming from Reality in 1971. However, both sold few copies in the US, and he was quickly dropped by Sussex, which itself closed in 1975. At the time he was dropped, he was in the process of completing a third album, which has never been released.
Rodriguez quit his music career and in the 1970s he purchased a derelict Detroit house in a government auction for $50. He lives there to this day. Rodriguez worked in demolition and production line work, always earning a low income. He remained politically active and motivated to improve the lives of the city's working-class inhabitants, and in 1989 registered to run for the city council, though he lost.
Rodriguez has three daughters, and is now separated from his second wife, Konny Koskos.
In 2013 it was announced that Rodriguez was in discussions with Steve Rowland, the producer of his Coming From Reality album. "I've written about thirty new songs", Rodriguez told Rolling Stone magazine. "He told me to send him a couple of tapes, so I'm gonna do that. I certainly want to look him up, because now he's full of ideas."
Although Rodriguez remained relatively unknown in his home country, by the mid-1970s his albums were starting to gain significant airplay in Australia, Botswana, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
When imported copies of his Sussex albums were sold out, an Australian record label, Blue Goose Music, bought the Australian rights to his recordings. Blue Goose released his two studio albums, plus a compilation album, At His Best that featured unreleased recordings from 1973 - "Can't Get Away", "I'll Slip Away" (a re-recording of his first single), and "Street Boy".
At His Best went platinum in South Africa, which at one stage was the major disc-press source of his music to the rest of the world. He was compared to contemporaries Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens. Some of his songs served as anti-Apartheid anthems in South Africa, where his work influenced musicians protesting against the government. Reportedly, anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko was a Rodriguez fan.
Rodriguez was also successful in Australia and performed two concert tours across the country in 1979 and 1981.
In 1991, both of his albums were released on CD in South Africa for the first time, which helped preserve his fame. However, few details of his life were known to his fans, and it was rumored that Rodriguez had killed himself during a concert in the 1970s.
Despite his success abroad, his fame in South Africa had remained unknown to Rodriguez until 1997, when his eldest daughter came across a website dedicated to him. After contacting the website and learning of his fame in the country, Rodriguez went on his first South African tour, playing six concerts before thousands of fans. A documentary, Dead Men Don't Tour: Rodriguez in South Africa 1998, was screened on SABC TV in 2001. He performed in Sweden, before returning to South Africa in 2001 and 2005.
In 1998, his signature song, "Sugar Man", was covered by the South African rock band Just Jinger. In 2002, it was used by DJ David Holmes to open his mix album Come Get It I Got It, gaining Rodriguez more international airplay. "Sugar Man" had previously been sampled in the song "You're Da Man" in rapper Nas's 2001 album Stillmatic.
In April 2007 and 2010, he returned to Australia to play at the East Coast Blues & Roots Music Festival, as well as sell out shows in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. His song "Sugar Man" was featured in the 2006 film Candy, starring Heath Ledger. Cornish singer-songwriter Ruarri Joseph covered Rodriguez's song "Rich Folks Hoax" for his third studio album. Rodríguez continues to tour in various countries.
Rodriguez's albums Cold Fact and Coming from Reality were re-released by Light in the Attic Records in 2009.
Since the cinematic release of Searching for Sugar Man in 2012, Rodríguez has experienced a flush of media exposure and fan interest in the United States, as well as Europe. Rodriguez appeared as a musical guest on the Late Show with David Letterman on August 14, 2012, performing "Crucify Your Mind", and performed "Can't Get Away" on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on January 11, 2013.
Prominent news coverage has included a mid-August 2012 CNN feature story with an interview of Rodriguez discussing his life and career resurgence. On October 7, 2012, Rodriguez was featured on the US television news program 60 Minutes. On November 18, 2012, Rodriguez was interviewed on the UK Sunday morning news program The Andrew Marr Show, where he also played a short song over the closing credits. He performed on the BBC2 program Later... with Jools Holland on November 16, 2012, and was interviewed by Holland. Additionally, he has performed on the web on such notable web series as The Weekly Comet.
The film strongly implies that Rodriguez may have been cheated out of royalties over the years, specifically by Clarence Avant. This matter is still under investigation, and the legal issues are complicated. Rodriguez himself at first expressed indifference to these "symbols of success" but has since decided to pursue the matter.
In addition to concerts in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, Rodriguez's tour schedule for 2013 included his most notable US concerts to date, such as a stint at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in April and a spot at this year's Sasquatch Music Festival at The Gorge Amphitheatre, as well as other concerts in Europe. He played on the Park Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, England, in June 2013. On July 5, 2013, Rodriguez opened the prestigious Montreux Jazz festival. On August 10, 2013, Rodriguez headlined at the Wilderness Festival in the UK.
Rodriguez received additional marketing in 2014 as the Dave Matthews Band often covered the hit Sugar Man in the summer tour. Dave would preface the song with his experience as a fan of Rodriguez when he grew up in South Africa, and his surprise of Rodriguez's popularity in the United States.
In 2012, the Sundance Film Festival hosted the premiere of the documentary film Searching for Sugar Man, by Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul, detailing the efforts of two South African fans to see if his rumored death was true—and if not, to discover what had become of him. The documentary, produced by Simon Chinn and John Battsek, went on to win the World Cinema Special Jury Prize and the Audience Award, World Cinema Documentary.
In addition to playing at other film festivals including the True/False Film Festival and the Traverse City Film Festival, the film opened in New York and Los Angeles on July 27, 2012, before a larger domestic cinematic run. It was also screened as part of cinema programs in some European music festivals during the summer of 2012, including the Way Out West festival in August, where Rodriguez also performed. In November it won both the Audience Award and the Best Music Documentary Award at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.
The Searching for Sugar Man soundtrack features a compilation of Rodriguez tracks from his albums Cold Fact and Coming from Reality, in addition to 3 previously unreleased songs from his third unfinished album. The album was released on July 24, 2012. To allay possible concerns raised in the film about how Rodriguez was apparently cheated by his previous record label, the back cover bears the statement, "Rodriguez receives royalties from the sale of this release."
Searching for Sugar Man won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary on February 10, 2013.
On January 13, 2013, Searching for Sugar Man was nominated for and, on February 24, 2013, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 85th Academy Awards. Rodriguez declined to attend the award ceremony as he did not want to overshadow the filmmakers' achievement. Upon accepting his award, Chinn remarked on such generosity, "That just about says everything about that man and his story that you want to know." Malik Bendjelloul also said on stage, "Thanks to one of the greatest singers ever, Rodriguez."