Born: March 4, 1932 | Died: November 9, 2008 Primary Instrument: Vocal
South African diva Miriam Makeba is well known throughout the world as Mama Africa and the Empress of African Song. She is African music's first and foremost world star. She is a pioneer who played her early songs and blended different styles long before anyone even began to talk about world music. Her record production is spread across many companies all over the world - so far and wide that it's difficult to get a panoramic view of it. But no collection of African music should be without one or more of Miriam Makeba's recordings.
Miriam was born in Johannesburg. As a young girl of thirteen, she entered a talent show at a missionary school and walked off with the first prize. She was often invited to sing at weddings, and her popularity grew in leaps and bounds as more and more people became dazzled by her talent. In 1952 she was chosen to sing for The Manhattan Brothers and toured South Africa with them. As early as 1956, she wrote and released the song Pata Pata.
She received invitations to visit Europe and America, where she came to the attention of Harry Belafonte and Steve Allen and was capitulated to stardom. 1959 saw her becoming the first South African to win a Grammy award for the album “An Evening with Harry Belafonte & Miriam Makeba.”
Miriam became an exile in 1960 when South Africa banned her from returning to her birth country - she was deemed to be too dangerous and revolutionary - this was after she had appeared in an anti-apartheid documentary, entitled Come Back Africa, and this upset the then white apartheid government of South Africa. Miriam only returned to South Africa thirty years later.
In 1967, more than ten years after she wrote the song, Pata Pata was released in the United States and became a hit worldwide. It has since been re-recorded by numerous international artists. Miriam was a darling of the American public, but they turned against her when she married the radical black activist, Stokely Carmichael, in 1968. Once again, she was at the receiving end of a dissatisfied and disgruntled country. Although the United States never banned her, her US concerts and recording contracts were suddenly cancelled.
She moved back to Africa, this time to Guinea where she was welcomed with open arms. Miriam continued to record songs and toured intensively. She was well respected by the government of Guinea and was asked to address the United Nations General Assembly as a Guinean delegate. She twice addressed the General Assembly, speaking out against the evils of apartheid.
Although always regarding herself as a singer and not as a politician, Miriam's fearless humanitarianism has earned her many International awards, including the 1986 Dag Hammerskjold Peace Prize and the UNESCO Grand Prix du Conseil International de la Musique. Makeba is also known for having inspired an enduring fashion in the 60's when the slogan black is beautiful was launched which popularized the Afro hairstyle of the period.
She has toured with singers such as Paul Simon, Nina Simone, Hugh Masekela and Dizzy Gillepsie. The ban on her records was lifted in South Africa in 1988 and she returned to her homeland in December 1990. Four years later she started a charity project to raise funds to protect women in South Africa. Her first concert in South Africa (1991) was a huge success and this was a prelude for a world-wide tour which included the USA and Europe.
She has released over fifty albums over the years, and her powerful and distinctive voice retains the clarity and range that enable it to be both forceful as a protest march and as poignant as an African lullaby.
She keeps on singing, with her granddaughter Zenzi Lee in her background choir and a great-grandson in her entourage. She released a critically acclaimed comeback album, Homeland, released in 2000, which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2001. She appeared in the movie of 2002 by Lee Hirsch, the opulent and exciting documentary Amandla! about the powerful part of music in the struggle against Apartheid. In 2004, at the South African Music Awards 10, her album “Reflections,” won two awards: Best Jazz Vocal Album and Best Adult Contemporary Album. She is on an international tour in 2007 with her eight member band, and performed for a free concert in May in London’s Trafalgar Square.
Miriam is MamaAfrica, a lady with a special touch. She has weathered many storms in her life, including several car accidents, a plane crash and even cancer. She remains as active in her latter years as she did as a young girl with stars in her eyes.
Her exceptional personal and artistic profile is part of the history of this century, all adding to the dramatic elements of an extraordinary life, making Miriam Makeba a living legend.
The Many Voices Of Miriam Makeba
The World Of Miriam Makeba
An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba (with Harry Belafonte)
The Click Song
All About Makeba
Miriam Makeba In Concert!
Eyes On Tomorrow
Sing Me A Song
Live From Paris & Conakry
Keep Me In Mind
Live at Berns Salonger, Stockholm, Sweden, 1966
2006 (last recording)
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