Miriam Makeba

This amazing singer, songwriter, actress, United Nations Ambassador and Civil Rights activist was born Zenzile Miriam Makeba on the fourth of March 1932 in Prospect Township, Johannesburg, South Africa.  Miriam was influenced by her families’ musical interests.  Her mother was a domestic helper and also a traditional healer.  She also played many traditional instruments.  Mr. Makeba was a teacher and he played the piano as well.  As a child Miriam sang in the choir of her Kilnertown Training Institute in Pretoria.  Her talent for singing earned her praise at school.  Miriam’s elder brother collected records and he taught her songs from great American artists like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.  At six years old Miriam’s father died and she had to find employment.  Her mother did domestic work for white families in Johannesburg and had to live away from her children.  Makeba lived with her grandmother and a large group of cousins in Pretoria.  In the early days of her career, Miriam performed with and all male South African group named The Cuban Brothers.  They did covers of popular American songs.   At 21 years old, she joined the jazz group The Manhatten Brothers who “sang a mixture of South African songs and pieces from popular African American groups”.  Makeba had her first hit “Laku Tshoni Ilanga” in 1953 which gained her national attention.  In 1956 she joined the “Skylarks” , and all women group who sang a blend of jazz and traditional South African melodies.  In 1959 , Miriam appeared in the documentary film , “Come Back, Africa”, which attracted international attention and the interest of many Holywood stars including Harry Belafonte.  With Harry’s help she was able to settle in the United States that same year.  Miriam Makeba had a successful singing and recoding career in the U.S.  In 1965 she collaborated with her good friend and mentor Harry Belafonte.  The result was the Grammy award winning album “An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba.  They won in the category of Best folk recording.  Miriam married American Black Activist Stokely Carmichael in 1968.  They were together for about ten years.  Carmichael was a member of the controversial Black Panther Party.  This marriage resulted in the decline of Miriam’s career in the United States.  She relocated to Africa with her husband and settled in Guinea and then moved to Belgium as she continued to tour Africa and Europe.  Her 1988 autobiography entitled Makeba: My Story, was co-authored by James Hall.  Miriam continued to perform in her elder years and she died from a heart attack after a concert in Italy in 2008.  “She became known as Mama Africa, one of the world’s most prominent black African performers in the 20th century”.  She recorded  thirty original albums and nineteen collaboration albums in her career.

 

harry belafonte


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