Miriam Makeba Biography

Activist, Civil Rights Activist, Singer(1932–2008)
Miriam Makeba, also known as "Mama Africa," was a popular South-African singer who introduced Xhosa and Zulu songs to Western audiences. She is best known for the songs "Pata Pata," "The Click Song" and "Malaika."

Synopsis

Miriam Makeba was born in South Africa in 1932. Her singing appearance in the documentary film Come Back, Africa (1959) attracted the interest of Harry Belafonte. With his help, Makeba settled in the United States, where she embarked on a successful singing and recording career. In 1965, she and Belafonte won a Grammy Award for best folk recording. She received renewed attention in the mid-1980s, after she met Paul Simon and joined Simon's history-making Graceland tour. Makeba is best known for the songs "Pata Pata," "The Click Song" and "Malaika." She continued making music and working as a civil rights activist until her death in 2008.

Early Life and Career

Miriam Makeba was born Zensi Miriam Makeba on March 4, 1932, in Prospect Township, near Johannesburg, South Africa, to a Xhosa father and a Swazi mother. Makeba began singing in her school choir as a young girl, and by the mid-1950s, she was landing local gigs as a full-time professional singer. By the end of the decade, she had made a name for herself throughout South Africa.

Continued Commercial Success

In 1959, Makeba's singing appearance in the documentary film Come Back, Africa attracted the interest of Harry Belafonte. The film tells the story of Zachariah, a black South-African man living under the rule of the nation's oppressive apartheid government. With Belafonte's help, Makeba settled in the United States, where she embarked on a successful singing and recording career. In 1960, she was denied re-entry into South Africa, and, subsequently, she lived in exile for three decades.

Makeba's song "Pata Pata," originally released in South Africa in the late 1950s but not released in the United States until 1967, is considered by many to be her most popular single. She is also well-known for the songs "The Click Song" and "Malaika," and for introducing to the West a number of Xhosa, Zulu and Swahil songs.

In 1962, Makeba performed at the birthday celebration of President John F. Kennedy. In 1965, she and Belafonte released the album An Evening with Belafonte & Makeba, which includes two duos by the musicians: "Train Song" and "Cannon." The album earned Makeba and Belafonte a Grammy Award for best folk recording in 1966.

In the mid-1980s, Makeba met famed American musician Paul Simon. In 1987, she and Simon performed together as part of Simon's incredibly famous Graceland tour. The tour focused attention on apartheid in Makeba's homeland, where she would eventually return, encouraged by Nelson Mandela after his release from prison in 1990.

In addition to her music career, Makeba, a black South African, was a prominent civil rights activist, speaking out against apartheid in South Africa.

Final Years

Miriam Makeba continued making music and fighting for causes that she believed in until her death, following a heart attack on November 9, 2008, at the age of 76, in Castel Volturno, Italy.

By the end of her career, Makeba had recorded 30 original albums and 19 compilation albums, and had collaborated with other musicians on several other projects.

Personal Life

In 1964, Makeba married famed trumpeter Hugh Masekela. The couple divorced in 1966, following Makeba's release of An Evening with Belafonte & Makeba. In 1968, Makeba wed Trinidadian-American civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael. With Carmichael, she relocated to Africa, where the couple settled in Guinea, and later moved to Belgium. Makeba and Carmichael divorced in 1979, after nearly a decade of marriage.

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