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Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba

Legendary South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba (born 1932) rose to international fame during the 1960s, attracting a wide following through concert appearances and recordings. Although capable of great vocal versatility in a variety of languages and settings, including jazz and blues, Makeba became best-known for singing in her native dialect, distinguishable by explosive, clicking sounds formed with the epiglottis in the back of the throat.

Forced into exile from her native country in 1960, Makeba used her stature to speak out against apartheid—the institutionalized practice of political, economic, and social oppression along racial lines. Such efforts earned her the title "Mama Africa," as she became an enduring symbol in the fight for equality. In 1991, following the 1990 prison release of Nelson Mandela, Makeba triumphantly returned to South Africa, settling in the city of Johannesburg. Since then, she has served as a spiritual mother and inspiration to numerous South African musicians and remains committed to social change within the country. South Africa, despite the dissolution of the apartheid regime and the creation of a new democracy, continues to face racial tensions, economic hardships, a high rate of crime, and a rising AIDS epidemic, all of which count among Makeba's primary concerns. In 1995, she founded her own charitable organization designed to help protect the women and young girls of her homeland.

"We have a beautiful country. We are a beautiful people. We are a forgiving people," Makeba told Interview magazine in May of 2001. "We've had a past of being oppressed and maimed, but when we gained our independence in 1994, our president then, Nelson Mandela, and even our president now, Thabo Mbeki, told us yes, we went through this, but we must try to forgive. We may never forget and we must not forget—but we must forgive. So please, world—you out there in the world—forgive us."

Raised within an Oppressive Society

Zensi Miriam Makeba, born on March 4, 1932, came into a world that offered few opportunities. The South African government, amid worldwide condemnation for its inhumanity, denied non-white citizens the most basic of human rights, including the right to vote and own land, as well as laws restricting where blacks could live, eat, work, or travel. Such a policy of white supremacy through racial segregation—which became official law in 1948 under Prime Minister Daniel Malan—prevailed for decades, regardless of the fact that blacks (or Africans) outnumbered whites in South Africa at a ratio of four-to-one.

Makeba's father, a schoolteacher and member of the Xhosa tribe, could only choose between two places for his family to live: either a rural tribal reservation where the soil remained uncultivated or a regulated township near a city. He opted for the latter and, after securing government permission, moved to Prospect Township. Located near Johannesburg, Prospect, Makeba's birthplace, was one of many segregated shantytowns surrounding the city. Typically, the cheaply-built homes on the crowded reservations had no electricity or running water, and children had little room outdoors to play. Africans were permitted to work in Johannesburg, where they arrived on designated buses each day, but the law required them to leave in the evenings by a certain time. In order to help make ends meet, Makeba's mother, a Swazi, took a job as a domestic worker at a white household in Johannesburg. She supplemented her income by illegally selling home-brewed beer. Eventually, she was charged for the offense and spent six months in jail. Makeba, then just 18 days old, went with her.

Inclined to Sing

Because free public education ceased to exist for black children, when Makeba reached school age, she attended Kilnerton Training Institute, a Methodist school for African children in the South African administrative capital of Pretoria, located a short distance from Johannesburg. Here she received limited musical training through participation in the school choir, where her vocal talents were readily recognized, as well as the opportunity to perform in public. At the age of 13, Makeba gave her first solo performance before King George VI of England during his visit to South Africa.

Music had always played an important role in Makeba's life. Early on, she listened to and picked up the traditional songs of the Xhosa and Zulu dialects. And beyond the music of her native people, characterized by clicks unknown in any other language, she discovered other music from listening to the radio and phonograph records. She particularly loved American jazz recordings, especially those of singer Ella Fitzgerald. "Anyone who sings," Makeba once said, as quoted by Louise Crane in Ms. Africa: Profiles of Modern African Women, "makes music, as long as it's good to my ear."

Makeba spent eight years at Kilnerton, then took work with her mother performing servants' chores in white homes. An early marriage around age 17 resulted in the birth of a daughter named Bongi, but her husband died when Makeba was just 19 years old. Thus, with a baby to support, she continued to work as a domestic and sang at weddings, funerals, and other events in her spare time. These amateur showings led to contact with a professional group of eleven men called the Black Manhattan Brothers, who asked Makeba to join as their female vocalist in 1954. She remained with the ensemble until 1957, during which time Makeba performed throughout South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and the Belgian Congo (now Zaire), and in 1956 recorded her signature song, "Pata Pata," which would eventually become a major American hit in 1967.

After breaking with the Black Manhattan Brothers, Makeba formed an all-female group called the Skylarks in 1958. The following year, she toured for 18 months with a musical extravaganza, African Jazz and Variety, and began performing solo engagements. These personal appearances, coupled with a series of popular recordings, established Makeba throughout her native land. Thereafter, Makeba further enhanced her reputation playing the female lead of Joyce, the owner of an illegal African drinking place called a "shebeen," in the jazz opera King Kong. Based on the tragic account of an African prize fighter jailed for a crime of passion, the production, which premiered on February 2, 1959, toured South Africa for eight months with surprising success, despite the humiliating restrictions levied because of apartheid.

King Kong was forced to play before separate black and white audiences, and performances for Africans were usually given under difficult circumstances. For instance, special transportation arrangements for African audiences had to be made, shows for blacks were restricted to small halls with inadequate acoustics, and the production was banned altogether in all-white Pretoria. Nevertheless, in the legislative capital city of Cape Town, whites lined up at dawn to reserve seats to the always sold-out shows. In the end, audiences of both races fell in love with and cheered the voice of the young star, Miriam Makeba, who transformed songs first introduced in King Kong, such as "Back of the Moon," into best-selling records.

International Fame

Prior to her role in King Kong, Makeba had already begun to attract international attention by playing the female lead and singing two songs in the 1958 film Come Back, Africa, an antiapartheid, semi-documentary produced and directed by independent American filmmaker Lionel Rogosin. Banned for obvious reasons in South Africa, the film was shot on location in Sofiatown, a reservation outside Johannesburg that was being demolished for a new, all-white suburb. Although Rogosin convinced authorities his intention was to simply document the ethnic music and folkways of African people, his real aim was to provide evidence to the world about the injustices of the South African government. Smuggled out of the country, Come Back, Africa debuted outside of competition at the 1959 Venice Film Festival and, when shown commercially thereafter, received critical praises for its dramatic impact.

Makeba, who had applied for a legal passport around 1957 to travel abroad, attended the Venice Film Festival. At the time married to Sonny Pillay, a ballad singer of Indian descent who Makeba both married and divorced in 1959, and concerned for her small child in South Africa, she initially intended to return home directly from Venice. But from the moment of her arrival, several American entertainers—namely Steve Allen—were so captivated by Makeba that they were determined to bring the young singer to the United States. Thus, from Venice, Makeba traveled first to London, England, where she met vocalist Harry Belafonte at a screening for Come Back, Africa. Judging her a revolutionary talent, he offered to act as Makeba's chief sponsor and mentor.

Next, she arrived in America for an appearance on Allen's national television show. After the program, airing on November 30, 1959, Max Gordon, owner of New York City's Village Vanguard nightclub, booked the singer for four weeks on the recommendation of Belafonte. The already accomplished performer coached Makeba on her stage poise and hired an arranger, clothing designer, and musicians in preparation for her club debut. On opening night, February 2, 1960, Makeba delighted the audience sprinkled heavily with other entertainers. "Alternating between sensuous and explosive styles," according to a Look magazine review, "she interpreted both dialect tunes and jazz standards with a finesse that heralded the appearance of a new star."

Throughout the early-1960s, she continued to draw enthusiastic crowds, embarking upon several national as well as international tours with Belafonte, who allowed Makeba to share the bill with him. The pair also collaborated on a record, winning a Grammy Award for An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba in 1965. Over the years, Belafonte and Makeba continued to reunite periodically, releasing in 1972 the album Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte. Makeba later made a special guest appearance for the Harry Belafonte Tribute at Madison Square Garden in 1997.

As a solo artist, Makeba recorded such popular albums as Miriam Makeba (1958) and The Voice of Africa (1964). Her eclectic repertoire included English ballads, Portuguese fados, Brazilian bossa novas, Hebrew and Yiddish melodies, Haitian chants, and other folk and popular styles from around the world. However, American audiences were most taken by the songs of Makeba's native heritage, particularly "Qonqonthwane," or "The Click Song," a Xhosan wedding tune, and "Mbube," also known as "Wimoweh," a Zulu lion-hunting song.

Forced Into Exile

Fortunately, Makeba quickly achieved international stardom, for when she attempted to return to South Africa in 1960 to attend her mother's funeral, she learned that the apartheid government had banned her from returning to the country. She also endured personal turmoil during the 1960s, including another failed marriage to trumpeter Hugh Masekela (the couple married in 1964 and divorced in 1966), as well as a serious threat to her health when she battled cervical cancer through radical surgery.

After South Africa revoked Makeba's citizenship, she was initially reluctant to speak too much about her political views, fearing the safety of family members who remained near Johannesburg. But increasingly, she became more vocal. During an exile spanning over three decades, Makeba was issued passports from nine different countries and often referred to herself a "citizen of the world." On two occasions, in 1964 and 1975, she addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations on the horrors of apartheid and in 1968 won the Dag Hammerskjold Peace Prize.

Also in 1968, Makeba married controversial black activist Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Toure), a union that negatively impacted her career in America. Possibly fearing that Makeba's earnings would aid Carmichael, promoters cancelled concerts, and RCA dropped Makeba from her record contract. Ultimately, Carmichael's "black power" activism led to his exclusion from the mainstream in the U.S, and the couple fled to Guinea, West Africa. After their divorce in 1978, Makeba remained in Guinea for several years, continued to perform in Europe and parts of Africa, and served as Guinean ambassador to the United Nations. While an honorary citizen of Guinea, Makeba suffered another tragic loss when, in 1985, daughter Bongi died giving birth to a stillborn child.

According to Makeba, music and religious faith helped her overcome life's misfortunes, and she remained an active and respected musician throughout her life. In 1975, Makeba recorded the acclaimed album A Promise, and during 1987 and 1988, she joined Paul Simon and South Africa's Ladysmith Black Mambazo for the legendary Graceland world tour. Then, recording her first American set in two decades, she released a tribal collection entitled Sangoma in 1988, followed by an album of both traditional and standard compositions, Welela, in 1989. During the 1990s and beyond, her works included Eyes on Tomorrow, a commercial blend of jazz, blues, and pop released in 1991, and the Grammy-nominated Homeland, an album of both South African roots and American blues-pop released in 2000.

Makeba published her autobiography, Makeba: My Story, in 1987. It was subsequently translated and published in German, French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese, a testament to Makeba's musical and social influence on people not only in South Africa and the U.S., but throughout the world. "I'm always in Europe, and in Africa there are may be five countries that I haven't been to," said Makeba in a Down Beat interview with Aaron Cohen. "When they say I'm in the 'World' category, I say, 'Actually, I am a world category."'

Books

Almanac of Famous People, Gale Research, 1998.

Crane, Louise, Ms. Africa: Profiles of Modern African Women, J.B. Lippincott, 1973.

Contemporary Musicians, Volume 8, Gale Research, 1992.

Makeba, Miriam with James Hall, Makeba: My Story, New American Library, 1987.

Newsmakers, Issue 4, Gale Research, 1989.

Periodicals

Billboard, May 22, 1993; April 15, 2000.

Down Beat, April 2001.

Interview, May 2001. Jet, April 18, 1994.

Time, May 1, 2000.

UNESCO Courier, July 2000. □

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Makeba, Miriam

Miriam Makeba

1932

Singer, writer, activist

South African singer and political activist Miriam Makeba is a preeminent chronicler of the black South African experience. In a career spanning more than three decades, she has established herself as a powerful voice in the fight against apartheidthe practice of political, economic, and social oppression along racial lines. Often referred to as "Mother Africa" and "The Empress of African Song," Makeba is credited with bringing the rhythmic and spiritual sounds of Africa to the West. Her music is a soulful mix of jazz, blues, and traditional African folk songs shaded with potent political overtones. Using music as a primary forum for her social concerns, the singer became a lasting symbol in the fight for racial equality and a strong voice for the struggle against AIDS.

Restricted by Her Government

Makeba's first encounter with the severity of government rule in her native land came when she was just two-and-one-half weeks old: following her mother's arrest for the illegal sale of home-brewed beer, young Makeba served a six-month jail term with her. Makeba's formative years were equally difficult. As a teenager she performed backbreaking domestic work for white families and endured physical abuse from her first husband. She found solace and a sense of community, though, in music and religion. Singing first in a choir, Makeba soon showcased her talents with local bands, achieving success on the regional club circuit.

Makeba first captured international attention with her role in the pseudodocumentary Come Back, Africa, a controversial anti-apartheid film released in 1959. Following the film's showing at the Venice Film Festival, Makeba traveled to London, where she met respected American entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte. Impressed with her unique and profound renderings of native folksongs, he served as her mentor and promoter in the United States, arranging gigs for her in New York City clubs and a guest spot on The Steve Allen Show. The exposure brought her worldwide acclaim and launched a cross-cultural musical career of epic proportions.

The 1960s proved to be an especially tumultuous decade for Makeba. Her outspoken opposition to the repressive political climate in South Africa set the stage for harsh government retaliation. Makeba's call for an end to apartheid became increasingly powerful, and her recordings were subsequently banned in South Africa. More than three decades of exile began for the singer in 1960, when, seeking to return to her native land for her mother's funeral, her passport was invalidated by the government of Pretoria. Around the same time, Makeba endured additional turmoil in her personal life. Between 1959 and 1966, for instance, she experienced two failed marriages, one to singer Sonny Pilay, which lasted for only three months, and another to trumpeter Hugh Masekela. And in the early 1960s, she faced threats to her health, battling cervical cancer through radical surgery.

Perhaps the biggest blow to Makeba's career came with her 1968 marriage to American black activist Stokely Carmichael. A self-avowed revolutionary, Carmichael took a militant "Black Power" stance that was often perceived as divisive and threatening to the existing fabric of American society. Having long used song as a vehicle to raise social and political awareness, Makeba was stunned by the devastating effects of her marriage on her musical career. Her affiliation with Carmichael effectively eliminated her arena for social expression in the West. In her autobiography Makeba: My Story, she recalled the curtailment of her success in the United States: "My concerts are being canceled left and right. I learn that people are afraid that my shows will finance radical activities. I can only shake my head. What does Stokely have to do with my singing?" When her record label, Reprise, refused to honor her contract in the States, Makeba moved with Carmichael to Guinea.

Sang for Freedom

Although Makeba's marriage to Carmichael ended in 1978, she remained in Guinea for several years. She continued performing in Europe and parts of Africa, promoting freedom, unity, and social change. During the singer's time in Guinea, though, heartbreaking misfortune again touched her life. Her youngest grandson became fatally ill, and her only daughter, Bongi, died after delivering a stillborn child. Yet, through all of her trials, Makeba has derived consolation from her music and her undying faith in God.

In the spring of 1987, Makeba joined American folk-rock legend Paul Simon's phenomenal Graceland tour in newly independent, antiseparatist Zimbabwe. An unprecedented display of racial unity and multicultural sounds, the concert focused attention on the injustice of imperial racist policies in South Africa and showcased the talents of generations of South African musicians. Following the success and exposure afforded her by the Graceland tour, Makeba recorded her first American release in two decades, a tribal collection titled Sangoma, which means diviner-healer. Featuring African chants that the singer learned in her youth from her mother, the solo album casts a new light on the soulful, spiritual sounds of her native land. Makeba's follow-up albumthe 1989 PolyGram debut Welela blends traditional songs with newer pop pieces.

In a Chicago Tribune interview with Leigh Behrens, Makeba summarized her thoughts on her life in exile since 1959: "I have love, but I also have suffering. I am a South African. I left part of me there. I belong there." In June of 1990, Makeba finally reentered Johannesburg for the first time in 31 years, on the invitation of Nelson Mandela. The following year PolyGram released Eyes on Tomorrow, an upbeat protest album recorded in a Johannesburg studio. Featuring pioneering jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, rhythm and blues singer Nina Simone, and Masekela, Eyes on Tomorrow is generally considered a more commercial mix of pop, blues, and jazz than the singer's previous efforts.

At a Glance

Born Zensi Miriam Makeba on March 4, 1932, in Prospect, near Johannesburg, South Africa; immigrated to United States, 1959; daughter of a Xhosa teacher and a Swazi domestic worker; married Sonny Pilay (a singer), 1959 (divorced, 1959); married Hugh Masekela (a musician), 1964 (divorced, 1966); married Stokely Carmichael (a civil rights leader), 1968 (divorced, 1978); married fifth husband, Bageot Bah (an airline executive); children: (first marriage) Bongi (daughter; deceased). Education : Attended Kimerton Training Institute in Pretoria, South Africa.

Career : Domestic worker in Johannesburg, South Africa; vocalist touring in South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and the Belgian Congo (now Zaire) with the Black Mountain Brothers, 1954-57; singer in Africa, the United States, England, France, Denmark, and Italy, 1957; United Nations delegate from Guinea, West Africa, 1963; Goodwill Ambassador for South Africa to the United Nations, 2000s(?).

Memberships : American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.

Awards : Grammy Award for best folk recording, 1965, for An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba ; Dag Hammer-skjoeld Peace Prize, 1986; Swedish Polar Music Prize, 2002; French government.

Addresses: Home South Africa.

Turned Her Attention to AIDS

Makeba continued her musical career as well as her activist efforts around the world. As Robert Farris Thompson put it in the New York Times, "She is a symbol of the emergence of Afro-Atlantic art and a voice for her people. Her life in multiple cultural and political settingsand her rich musical career, drawing on traditional and contemporary sourceshave resonance for us all." During her nearly 30 years in exile, Makeba took her message around the world, performing for some of the most powerful leaders, including John F. Kennedy, former French president Francois Mitterrand, and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. But with the end of apartheid in 1994, Makeba found new reasons to sing, continuing her activism by turning her attention to the AIDS epidemic in Africa. "In our society, we have always passed messages and expressed ourselves through song. This is why the former government was so scared of musicians," she told the UNESCO Courier. "I'm trying to see how I can fit in [to the fight against AIDS]. I have asked all those who write songs for me to compose a short song or poem to broadcast to try to broaden the whole thing. I feel this thing very personally. I have lost many friends to AIDS," she explained to Newsweek :

Even as Makeba aged critics reveled in her charisma and talent. Variety remarked at 68-year-old Makeba's "majestic dominance," calling her a "natural wonder." She released her album Homeland in 2000 and it was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2001. Time called Homeland a "musical love letter" to Africa. Marking the tenth year anniversary of the end of apartheid in South Africa, Makeba released Reflections in 2004. The album is a collection of some of her most well-known songs over the past 50 years, including of "Pata Pata," and "Click Song." Billboard called the album "wondrous," and Makeba remarked to the magazine that "These are some of the songs most associated with me from different times in my life, and it was a joy to sing and record them again."

In 2005 mentions of Makeba's impending retirement stirred through the media. She announced her intentions while on tour in Zambia in late 2004. But reviewers were quick to note that she certainly had not lost any of her appeal: "Every bit as delightful as her singing was her natural warm rapport with the audience. More than once she playfully lamented the travails of growing oldnone of which she exhibits. Instead, she imbued her big joyful international hit 'Pata Pata' with the same impish charm as she did 40 years ago. In contrasting style, the stunning a-cappella encore involving the whole band was the model of integrity and sincerity, sealing the impression that Miriam Makeba is not just a wonderful singer, but an extraordinary human being," reported The Scotsman. Although she has continued to perform in occasional concerts, Makeba has refocused her efforts as a "spokeswoman" for African culture, politics and social responsibility. She spent a great deal of time with the Makeba Rehabilitation Centre for Girls in Midrand, South Africa, which she founded in 1997 to help abused children. She also worked as the Goodwill Ambassador for South Africa to the United Nations

Selected works

Singles

"Pata Pata," 1967.

Albums

Miriam Makeba Sings, RCA, 1960.

The World of Miriam Makeba, RCA, 1963.

Back of the Moon, Kapp.

An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba, RCA, 1965.

Sangoma, Warner Bros., 1988.

Welela, PolyGram, 1989.

Eyes on Tomorrow, PolyGram, 1991.

Homeland, Putumayo, 2000.

Reflections, Heads Up International, 2004.

Books

The World of African Song, edited by Jonas Gwangwa and E. John Miller, Jr., Time Books, 1971.

(With James Hall) Makeba: My Story (autobiography), New American Library, 1987.

Films

Come Back, Africa, 1959.

Sources

Books

Makeba, Miriam, and James Hall, Makeba: My Story, New American Library, 1987.

Periodicals

Africa Report, January 1977.

Billboard, May 22, 1993; April 15, 2000; June 12, 2004; July 3, 2004.

Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1988.

Down Beat, April 2001.

Ebony, April 1963; July 1968.

Interview, May 2001.

Jet, April 18, 1994.

Ms. , May 1988.

Nation, March 12, 1988.

Newsweek, July 17, 2000.

New York Times, February 28, 1960; February 15, 1987; January 27, 1988; January 31, 1988; March 8, 1988; March 13, 1988; June 11, 1990.

Playboy, October 1991.

Rolling Stone, July 2, 1987.

Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland), October 25, 2004.

Time, February 1, 1960; May 1, 2000.

Times Literary Supplement, March 11, 1988.

Tribune Books (Chicago), January 24, 1988.

UNESCO Courier, July 2000.

Variety, July 24, 2000.

Washington Post, April 19, 1988.

Barbara Carlisle Bigelow and

Sara Pendergast

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Makeba, Miriam

Miriam Makeba

Singer, activist

Career Received Boost From Belafonte

Personal Tragedy

Three Decades of Exile Ended

Selected writings

Selected discography

Sources

South African singer and political activist Miriam Makeba is chief among those who have proclaimed the experiences of black South Africans. Throughout a career spanning more than three decades, she has established herself as a powerful voice in the fight against apartheidthe South African practice of institutional political, economic, and social oppression along racial lines. Often referred to as Mother Africa and The Empress of African Song, Makeba is credited with bringing the rhythmic and spiritual sounds of Africa to the West. Her music is a soulful mix of jazz, blues, and traditional African folk songs shaded with potent political overtones. Using music as a primary forum for her social concerns, the singer has become a lasting symbol in the fight for racial equality and has come to represent the pain of all South Africans living in exile.

Makebas first encounter with the severity of government rule in her native land came when she was just two and a half weeks old: Following her mothers arrest for the illegal sale of home-brewed beer, the infant served a six-month jail term with her. Makebas formative years were equally difficult; as a teenager she performed backbreaking domestic work for white families and endured physical abuse from her first husband. She found solace and a sense of community in music and religion. Singing first in a choir, Makeba soon showcased her talents with local bands, achieving success on the regional club circuit.

Career Received Boost From Belafonte

Makeba captured international attention with her role in the film Come Back, Africa, a controversial anti-apartheid statement released in 1959. Following the films debut at the Venice Film Festival, Makeba traveled to London, where she met respected American entertainer and social activist Harry Belafonte. Impressed by her unique and profound renderings of African folk songs, he served as her mentor and promoter in the United States, arranging performances for her in New York City clubs and a guest spot on The Steve Allen Show. This exposure brought Makeba worldwide acclaim and launched a cross-cultural music career of uncommon proportions.

The 1960s proved an especially tumultuous decade for Makeba. Her outspoken opposition to the repressive political climate in South Africa set the stage for harsh government retaliation. Makebas call for an end to apartheid became increasingly powerful, and her recordings were subsequently banned in South Africa. More than three decades of exile began for the singer in 1960, when, seeking to return to her native land for her mothers funeral, her passport was invalidated by the

For the Record

Born Zensi Miriam Makeba, March 4, 1932, in Prospect (near Johannesburg), South Africa; immigrated to United States, 1959; daughter of a Xhosa teacher and a Swazi domestic worker; married Sonny Pilay (a singer), 1959 (divorced, 1959); married Hugh Masekela (a musician), 1964 (divorced, 1966); married Stokely Carmichael (a civil rights activist), 1968 (divorced, 1978); married fifth husband, Bageot Bah (an airline executive); children: (first marriage) Bongi (daughter; deceased). Education: Attended Kimerton Training Institute, Pretoria, South Africa.

Domestic worker in Johannesburg, South Africa; vocalist; toured South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and the Belgian Congo (now Zaire) with the Black Mountain Brothers, 1954-57; performed throughout Africa, the U.S., England, France, Denmark, and Italy, 1957; recording artist; performed with singer Paul Simons Graceland tour of Africa, 1987, and the U.S., 1988. Appeared in film Come Back, Africa, 1959. Former United Nations delegate from Guinea, West Africa.

Member: ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers).

Awards: Grammy Award for best folk recording, 1965, for An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba; Dag Hammarskjold Peace Prize, 1986.

Addresses: Record company Polydor Records, Worldwide Plaza, 825 8th Ave., New York, NY 10019.

South African government. Makeba also endured turmoil in her personal life. Between 1959 and 1966 she suffered two failed marriages, one to singer Sonny Pilay and another to trumpeter Hugh Masekela. In the early 1960s she faced a serious threat to her health, battling cervical cancer through radical surgery.

Perhaps the biggest blow to Makebas career, however, came with her 1968 marriage to American civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael. A self-avowed revolutionary, Carmichael took a militant Black Power stance that was often perceived as divisive and threatening to the fabric of American society. Having long used song as a vehicle to raise social and political awareness, Makeba was stunned by the devastating effect of her marriage on her career; her relationship with Carmichael effectively eliminated her arena for social expression in the West. In her autobiography Makeba: My Story, she recalled her suddenly unwelcome status in the United States: My concerts are being canceled left and right. I learn that people are afraid that my shows will finance radical activities. I can only shake my head. What does Stokely have to do with my singing? When her record label, Reprise, refused to honor her contract in the States, Makeba moved with Carmichael to Guinea, West Africa.

Personal Tragedy

Although Makebas marriage to Carmichael ended in 1978, she remained in Guinea for several years. She continued performing in Europe and parts of Africa, promoting freedom, unity, and social change. During the singers time in Guinea, though, heartbreaking misfortune again touched her life. Her youngest grandson became fatally ill, and her only daughter, Bongi, died after delivering a stillborn child. Yet, through all of her trials, Makeba has derived consolation from her music and her undying faith in God.

In the spring of 1987 Makeba joined American folk-rock legend Paul Simons phenomenal Graceland tour in the newly independent black nation of Zimbabwe. An unprecedented display of multicultural music and racial unity, the concert focused attention on the injustice of imperial racist policies in South Africa and displayed the talents of generations of South African musicians. Following the success and exposure afforded her by the Graceland tour, Makeba recorded her first American release in two decades, a tribal collection titled Sangoma, which means diviner-healer. Featuring African chants that the singer learned in her youth from her mother, the solo album cast a new light on the soulful, spiritual sounds of her native land. Makebas follow-up albumthe 1989 Polydor debut Welela blended traditional songs with popular compositions.

Three Decades of Exile Ended

In a Chicago Tribune interview, Makeba summarized her thoughts on life in exile: I have love, but I also have suffering. I am a South African. I left part of me there. I belong there. In June of 1990 Makeba was finally allowed to go home; she visited Johannesburg for the first time in 31 years. The following year Polydor released Eyes on Tomorrow, an upbeat protest album recorded in a Johannesburg studio. Featuring pioneering jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, rhythm and blues singer Nina Simone, and Hugh Masekela, Eyes on Tomorrow is generally considered a more commercial mix of pop, blues, and jazz than Makebas previous efforts.

A spokesperson for civil rights throughout the world, Makeba continues to stand as the embodiment of the black South African experience. As New York Times contributor Robert Farris Thompson put it: She is a symbol of the emergence of Afro-Atlantic art and a voice for her people. Her life in multiple cultural and political settingsand her rich musical career, drawing on traditional and contemporary sourceshave resonance for us all.

Selected writings

The World of African Song, edited by Jonas Gwangwa and E. John Miller, Jr., Time Books, 1971.

(With James Hall) Makeba: My Story (autobiography), New American Library, 1987.

Selected discography

An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba, RCA, 1965.

Pata Pata (single), 1967.

Sangoma, Warner Bros., 1988.

Welela, Polydor, 1989.

Eyes on Tomorrow, Polydor, 1991.

Africa, reissued, Novus, 1991.

Miriam Makeba Sings, RCA.

The World of Miriam Makeba, RCA.

Back of the Moon, Kapp.

Miriam Makeba in Concert, Reprise.

Sources

Books

Makeba, Miriam, and James Hall, Makeba: My Story, New American Library, 1987.

Periodicals

Africa Report, January 1977.

Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1988.

Ebony, April 1963; July 1968.

Ms., May 1988.

Nation, March 12, 1988.

New York Times, February 28, 1960; February 15, 1987; January 27, 1988; January 31, 1988; March 8, 1988; March 13, 1988; June 11, 1990.

Playboy, October 1991.

Rolling Stone, July 2, 1987.

Time, February 1, 1960.

Times Literary Supplement, March 11, 1988.

Tribune Books (Chicago), January 24, 1988.

Washington Post, April 19, 1988.

Barbara Carlisle Bigelow

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Makeba, Miriam 1932–

Miriam Makeba 1932

Singer, writer, activist

At a Glance

Marriage to Black Activist Jeopardized Career

Graceland Tour Renewed Popularity

Exultant Return to Johannesburg

Selected writings

Selected discography

Sources

South African singer and political activist Miriam Makeba is a preeminent chronicler of the black South African experience. In a career spanning more than three decades, she has established herself as a powerful voice in the fight against apartheidthe practice of political, economic, and social oppression along racial lines. Often referred to as Mother Africa and The Empress of African Song, Makeba is credited with bringing the rhythmic and spiritual sounds of Africa to the West. Her music is a soulful mix of jazz, blues, and traditional African folk songs shaded with potent political overtones. Using music as a primary forum for her social concerns, the singer has become a lasting symbol in the fight for racial equality and has come to represent the pain of all South Africans living in exile.

Makebas first encounter with the severity of government rule in her native land came when she was just two-and-one-half weeks old: following her mothers arrest for the illegal sale of home-brewed beer, young Makeba served a six-month jail term with her. Makebas formative years were equally difficult. As a teenager she performed backbreaking domestic work for white families and endured physical abuse from her first husband. She found solace and a sense of community, though, in music and religion. Singing first in a choir, Makeba soon showcased her talents with local bands, achieving success on the regional club circuit.

Makeba first captured international attention with her role in the pseudodocumentary Come Back, Africa, a controversial anti-apartheid film released in 1959. Following the films showing at the Venice Film Festival, Makeba traveled to London, where she met respected American entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte. Impressed with her unique and profound renderings of native folksongs, he served as her mentor and promoter in the United States, arranging gigs for her in New York City clubs and a guest spot on The Steve Allen Show. The exposure brought her worldwide acclaim and launched a cross-cultural musical career of epic proportions.

The 1960s proved to be an especially tumultuous decade for Makeba. Her outspoken opposition to the repressive political climate in South Africa set the stage for harsh government retaliation. Makebas call for an end to apartheid became increasingly powerful, and her recordings

At a Glance

Born Zensi Miriam Makeba, March 4, 1932, in Prospect, near Johannesburg, South Africa; immigrated to United States, 1959; daughter of a Xhosa teacher and a Swazi domestic worker; married Sonny Pilay (a singer), 1959 (divorced, 1959); married Hugh Masekela (a musician), 1964 (divorced, 1966); married Stokely Carmichael (a civil rights leader), 1968 (divorced, 1978); married fifth husband, Bageot Bah (an airline executive); children: (first marriage) Bongi (daughter; deceased). Education: Attended Kimerton Training Institute in Pretoria, South Africa.

Domestic worker in Johannesburg, South Africa; vocalist touring in South Africa, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and the Belgian Congo (now Zaire) with the Black Mountain Brothers, 1954-57; singer in Africa, the United States, England, France, Denmark, and Italy, 1957; recording artist. Appeared in film Come Back, Africa, 1959. Singer on Paul Simons Graceland tour in Africa, 1987, and the United States, 1988. Former United Nations delegate from Guinea, West Africa.

Member: American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.

Awards: Grammy Award for best folk recording, 1965, for An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba ; Dag Hammer-skjoeld Peace Prize, 1986.

were subsequently banned in South Africa. More than three decades of exile began for the singer in 1960, when, seeking to return to her native land for her mothers funeral, her passport was invalidated by the government of Pretoria. Around the same time, Makeba endured additional turmoil in her personal life. Between 1959 and 1966, for instance, she experienced two failed marriages, one to singer Sonny Pilay, which lasted for only three months, and another to trumpeter Hugh Masekela. And in the early 1960s, she faced threats to her health, battling cervical cancer through radical surgery.

Marriage to Black Activist Jeopardized Career

Perhaps the biggest blow to Makebas career came with her 1968 marriage to American black activist Stokely Carmichael. A self-avowed revolutionary, Carmichael took a militant Black Power stance that was often perceived as divisive and threatening to the existing fabric of American society. Having long used song as a vehicle to raise social and political awareness, Makeba was stunned by the devastating effects of her marriage on her musical career. Her affiliation with Carmichael effectively eliminated her arena for social expression in the West. In her autobiography Makeba: My Story, she recalled the curtailment of her success in the United States: My concerts are being canceled left and right. I learn that people are afraid that my shows will finance radical activities. I can only shake my head. What does Stokely have to do with my singing? When her record label, Reprise, refused to honor her contract in the States, Makeba moved with Carmichael to Guinea.

Although Makebas marriage to Carmichael ended in 1978, she remained in Guinea for several years. She continued performing in Europe and parts of Africa, promoting freedom, unity, and social change. During the singers time in Guinea, though, heartbreaking misfortune again touched her life. Her youngest grandson became fatally ill, and her only daughter, Bongi, died after delivering a stillborn child. Yet, through all of her trials, Makeba has derived consolation from her music and her undying faith in God.

Graceland Tour Renewed Popularity

In the spring of 1987, Makeba joined American folk-rock legend Paul Simons phenomenal Graceland tour in newly independent, antiseparatist Zimbabwe. An unprecedented display of racial unity and multicultural sounds, the concert focused attention on the injustice of imperial racist policies in South Africa and showcased the talents of generations of South African musicians. Following the success and exposure afforded her by the Graceland tour, Makeba recorded her first American release in two decades, a tribal collection titled Sangoma, which means diviner-healer. Featuring African chants that the singer learned in her youth from her mother, the solo album casts a new light on the soulful, spiritual sounds of her native land. Makebas follow-up albumthe 1989 PolyGram debut Welela blends traditional songs with newer pop pieces.

Exultant Return to Johannesburg

In a Chicago Tribune interview with Leigh Behrens, Makeba summarized her thoughts on her life in exile since 1959: I have love, but I also have suffering. I am a South African. I left part of me there. I belong there. In June of 1990, Makeba finally reentered Johannesburg for the first time in 31 years. The following year PolyGram released Eyes on Tomorrow, an upbeat protest album recorded in a Johannesburg studio. Featuring pioneering jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, rhythm and blues singer Nina Simone, and Masekela, Eyes on Tomorrow is generally considered a more commercial mix of pop, blues, and jazz than the singers previous efforts.

A spokesperson for civil rights throughout the world, Makeba continues to stand as the embodiment of the black South African condition. As Robert Farris Thompson put it in the New York Times, She is a symbol of the emergence of Afro-Atlantic art and a voice for her people. Her life in multiple cultural and political settingsand her rich musical career, drawing on traditional and contemporary sourceshave resonance for us all.

Selected writings

The World of African Song, edited by Jonas Gwangwa and E. John Miller, Jr., Time Books, 1971.

(With James Hall) Makeba: My Story (autobiography), New American Library, 1987.

Selected discography

Singles

Pata Pata, 1967.

Albums

Miriam Makeba Sings, RCA.

The World of Miriam Makeba, RCA.

Back of the Moon, Kapp.

Miriam Makeba in Concert, Reprise.

An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba, RCA, 1965.

Sangoma, Warner Bros., 1988.

Welela, PolyGram, 1989.

Eyes on Tomorrow, PolyGram, 1991.

Sources

Books

Makeba, Miriam, and James Hall, Makeba: My Story, New American Library, 1987.

Periodicals

Africa Report, January 1977.

Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1988.

Ebony, April 1963; July 1968.

Ms., May 1988.

Nation, March 12, 1988.

New York Times, February 28,1960; February 15,1987; January 27, 1988; January 31, 1988; March 8, 1988; March 13, 1988; June 11, 1990.

Playboy, October 1991.

Rolling Stone, July 2, 1987.

Time, February 1, 1960.

Times Literary Supplement, March 11, 1988.

Tribune Books (Chicago), January 24, 1988.

Washington Post, April 19, 1988.

Barbara Carlisle Bigelow

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Makeba, Miriam

Miriam Makeba (məkā´bə), 1932–2008, South African singer. She became the first black South African to achieve international fame and she played a fundamental role in introducing African music to the West. Exiled from South Africa in the early 1960s because of her outspoken political views, she settled in the United States, where she was celebrated both as a performer and as a symbol of opposition to apartheid. South African music formed the heart of her large and varied repertoire during a career that began in the 1950s and spanned five decades. Her 1960s hits included "The Click Song" in her native Xhosa language and the dance tune "Pata Pata" . Makeba's first husband was Hugh Masekela. Following her marriage to the black militant leader Stokely Carmichael, she was declared unwelcome by the U.S. government and moved to Guinea (1969–84). She returned to her homeland after Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990.

See her autobiography (1988); Makeba: The Miriam Makeba Story (interviews, 2004).

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"Makeba, Miriam." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 11, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/makeba-miriam