Singer, Civil Rights Activist (1932–2008)
South African diva Miriam Makeba is well known throughout the world known as the Mama Africa and the Empress of African Song. Born in 1932 in South Afica, she first came to the public’s attention as a featured vocalist with the Manhattan Brothers in 1954. She soon left to record with her all-woman group the Skylarks while touring Southern Africa with Alf Herberts’ African Jazz and Variety, an 18 month tour that launched the careers of many African artists.
In 1959, Makeba’s incredible voice help win her the role of the female lead in the show, King Kong, a Broadway-inspired South African musical. She then went to conquer America where she sang at President Kennedy’s birthday and worked in New York with Harry Belafonte creating such classics as “The Click Song” and “Pata Pata”.
In 1963 she testified about apartheid before the United Nations, as a result the South African government revoked her citizship and right of return. She stayed in the U.S. and married Stokely Carmichael, a Black Panther leader. That began her exile from her South African homeland. After harassment by U.S. authorities she fled to exile in Guinea.
Makeba returned to world prominence when she performed with Paul Simon on the Graceland tour. Finally in the late 1980’s she returned to her homeland as a free South African.
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.
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.