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
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:
see other black women imitate my style, which is
no style at all, but just letting our hair be
itself. They call it the Afro Look."
was received by such world leaders as Hailé Selassie,
Fidel Castro, John F. Kennedy and François Mitterrand.
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
She has released over thirty 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.
Miriam was 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
remained as active in her latter years as she did as a
young girl with stars in her eyes.
On 9 November 2008, she became ill while taking part in
a concert being held in Castel Volturno, Italy. Miriam
suffered a heart attack after singing her most famous
song "Pata Pata", and was rushed to a clinic where
doctors were unable to revive her.
Her exceptional personal and artistic achievements were part of
the history of the 20th century, and the dramatic
elements of her extraordinary life made Miriam Makeba
a living legend.