Dr. G. Yunupingu, Australian Aboriginal Singer, Dies at 46

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HONG KONG — Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, an Aboriginal Australian singer whose soulful voice and prodigious guitar playing took him from the remote island of his birth to concert halls around the world and to performances for Queen Elizabeth and Barack Obama, died on Tuesday in Darwin, Australia. He was 46.

His record label, Skinnyfish Music, announced his death in a statement, but it did not provide a cause. Australian news outlets reported that Mr. Yunupingu had been treated for chronic kidney and liver ailments for several years.

Mr. Yunupingu, who was born blind, grew up in Galiwin’ku, a settlement on Elcho Island off the north coast of Australia, 350 miles from Darwin, the nearest big city. His albums blended English-language lyrics with his native Yolngu and combined autobiographical details with his community’s rich oral history and folklore.

“Gurrumul,” his 2008 debut solo album, was the best-selling Indigenous music album in Australian history, hitting triple platinum and jumping to No. 1 on the iTunes Australia roots music chart that year.

[Video: The music video for “Bapa,” a single on his debut solo album. Watch on YouTube.]

The music video for “Bapa,” a single on his debut solo album.

Video by DramaticoMusic

Both of his next two albums charted to the Top 5: “Rrakala” and “The Gospel Album,” which incorporated Christian hymns — among the first English-language songs he heard as a boy.

In a 2015 review of his first performance in the United States, The New York Times described Mr. Yunupingu’s voice as “preternaturally soothing,” which “seems to arrive from a distance, high and serene, with a hint of reediness and a humble quaver, proffering melodies like lullabies.”

To honor a cultural taboo among Aborigines from northern Australia, following Mr. Yunupingu’s death, many supporters and much of the Australian news media have refrained from publishing photos of his face or using his given names, referring to him instead as Dr. G. Yunupingu. (Mr. Yunupingu was awarded an honorary doctorate of music by the University of Sydney in 2012.)

“In this day of too much noise, Dr. G. Yunupingu showed us that music is a powerful force for reconciliation,” Mark Grose, managing director of Skinnyfish Music, said at a news conference. “One of the greatest achievements any of us can have is to touch the hearts of others. And this is what Dr. G. Yunupingu did over, and over, and over again.”

Tributes to Mr. Yunupingu poured across social media.

“Dr. G. Yunupingu was a remarkable Australian sharing Yolngu language with the world through music. Prayers for Galiwin’ku & family & friends,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wrote on Twitter.

Mr. Turnbull’s predecessor, Tony Abbott, tweeted: “A hauntingly beautiful voice is now still.”

Mr. Yunupingu was born on Jan. 22, 1971, into the Gumatj clan of the Yolngu. Because of his blindness, Mr. Yunupingu “was stuck with the family more than a normal rebellious kid,” Michael Hohnen, a frequent collaborator and producer, told The International Herald Tribune in 2008.

As a boy, Mr. Yunupingu was “stuck going to the church and learning all the gospel songs, stuck playing a toy piano his mother gave him, and being given a guitar and being told, ‘Play this.’”

Largely self-taught, he picked up a right-handed guitar when he was 6 and learned to play it upside down with his left hand. He left school when he was 12 and never learned Braille.

Often described by the news media as “acutely shy,” Mr. Yunupingu rarely granted interviews and said little in those few meetings with reporters, preferring to let his music speak for itself.

Mr. Grose, the singer’s publicist, said Mr. Yunupingu’s health problems stemmed from a childhood illness and institutional failures to provide health care to Aborigines.

“Their life expectancy is not as great as mine as a non-Indigenous person,” Mr. Grose said. “All of us need to take some responsibility to help work towards better outcomes for Aboriginal people.”