Miram Makeba: Birth & Early Life
Miriam Makeba was first sent to prison when she was just 18 months old.
It was 1932, the height of the Great Depression.
Her mother, Regina Makeba, was a Swazi sangoma (traditional healer). She typically worked as a domestic worker, but she also set up an illegal brewery at their home in order to make ends meet.
And so Little Miriam spent the first six months of her life in prison with her mother.
Her father, Hugo Krige, was a Xhosa teacher and she had five siblings.
When she was five, Miriam was sent to live with her devout grandmother after her father died and her mom remarried. Her mother worked as a maid for white family.
Her stepfather, Jordan Ngubane, was a journalist and taught her about politics and African history.
She attended a Catholic mission school and then a non-racial high school.
After graduating, she worked as a nurse for two years.
Miriam Makeba: Her Singing Career
Miriam found her voice in church with her grandmother. She began to sing in the church choir and started to become well-known.
When she was 17, she married her first husband, who turned out to be abusive. Shortly after the birth of their only child, Makeba was diagnosed with breast cancer, which led to her leaving her husband.
She only fully healed a decade later, following a hysterectomy.
In 1950, she joined the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL).
The ANCYL was a political organization that fought for the rights of black South Africans.
Miriam Makeba: Her International Singing Career
But slowly, her luck began to change.
She joined the all-black theater group The Manhattan Brothers (she was the only woman, of course). They toured South Africa playing traditional South African songs in addition to music that was influenced from the US.
The band became very popular, and for the first time in her life, Makeba was able to travel, as the band was invited to perform in Congo, Rhodesia (nowadays known as Zimbabwe), and other countries in Africa.
In 1957, she was cast in the leading role of the musical King Kong and toured Africa for a year and a half.
She also starred in the movie Come Back Africa, which portrayed the lives of Black people through Africa, and became an international hit.
The worldwide success of the movie made her internationally known and she was invited to a very successful tour of the US, Canada and Europe.
The world became exposed to African music for the first time, and some of her songs, like The Click Song, became international hits (“Click” is a common sound in the Zulu language).
The Click Song – Miriam Makeba
In 1959, she married trumpet player Hugh Masekela. The couple moved to New York City in 1960.
Miriam Makeba: Anti-Apartheid And Equal Rights Activist
In 1960, the Sharpeville massacre became one of the turning points in South African apartheid.
A protest against the laws known as “pass laws” (in which Black people would need to be approved before travelling from Black communities) saw 69 protesters murdered.
Three of the dead where from Makeba’s family.
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Makeba was on tour in the United States when the massacre occurred.
She was unable to return to South Africa to attend her relatives funeral, as the apartheid regime seized her passport in retaliation of her public criticism of apartheid.
So she did what she did best: she sang.
Since then, Makeba dedicated herself to political music and to speaking out against apartheid. This hurt her worldwide popularity. Like many other black females in history, her dedication to civil rights and the fight for equality, came at a great personal expense.
At the same time, she strengthened her involvement with the Black Panthers in the ’60s, and even married one of their most prominent leaders.
This hurt her popularity with the white public even more.
But she didn’t let that stop her from singing and performing.
In 1963, she released her debut solo album, The Voice of Africa. The album was a success and helped to increase her popularity. She appeared in the film Come Back, Africa (1964) and won a Grammy Award for her performance.
In 1966, she moved to Ghana and helped to organize the Black Panther Party in Ghana.
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In 1967, she divorced Masekela and married Stokely Carmichael, a black nationalist leader.
The couple moved to Guinea, where Makeba became a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations.
She kept touring Africa throughout the ’60s and ’70s, and was invited to sing in almost every Independence ceremony of the new countries (including Kenya, Zambia, Angola, and Mozambique).
She published her memoir, Makeba: My Story, in 1989.
Miriam Makeba: Return To South Africa & Death
She returned to her homeland in 1994, when Nelson Mandela rose to power.
She became a UN Goodwill ambassador in 1999, and in 2002 she gained institutional recognition for the first time when her album was nominated for a Grammy under the World Music category.
During a 2008 concert in Italy held in the memory of 6 Ghanaian immigrants who were murdered by the city mafia, she suffered a heart attack onstage and died several hours later in the hospital.
Miriam Makeba died on November 10, 2008, at the age of 76.
She passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest while performing in Italy.
Makeba had a long and successful career as a singer and activist, and was known for her powerful voice and lyrics that spoke to the plight of black people around the world. Her death was a blow to the music community, and her legacy continues to inspire new generations of artists.
Pata Pata – One of her greatest hits
Miriam Makeba: Who Was She? What Was She Known for?
Miriam Makeba was a world-renowned South African singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist.
She was born in Johannesburg on March 4, 1932, and died in Casablanca on December 9, 2008.
Makeba is best known for her work in opposing apartheid in South Africa.
Makeba was a tireless campaigner for civil rights and human dignity. She was arrested and jailed several times for her anti-apartheid activism, and was eventually exiled from South Africa in 1963.
She spent the next 30 years living in various countries, including the United States, Guinea, and Belgium.
After the fall of apartheid, Makeba returned to South Africa and continued her work for civil rights.
She also became a UN goodwill ambassador and continued to tour and record music until her death in 2008.
Miriam Makeba: When Was Miriam Makeba Born?
Miriam Makeba was born on March 4, 1932 in Johannesburg, South Africa.