Miriam Makeba Biography

Zenzile Miriam Makeba was a famous South African musician, actor and a keen civil rights activist. This biography profiles her childhood, family, personal life, career, achievements and gives some fun facts.

Quick Facts

Birthday: March 4, 1932

Nationality: South African

Famous: Black Women Singers

Died At Age: 76

Sun Sign: Pisces

Also Known As: Mama Africa, Zenzile Miriam Makeba

Born in: Johannesburg, South Africa

Famous as: Singer

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Family:

Spouse/Ex-: Hugh Masekela, Stokely Carmichael

children: Bongi Makeba

Died on: November 10, 2008

place of death: Castel Volturno

City: Johannesburg, South Africa

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Zenzile Miriam Makeba was a famous South African musician, actor and a keen civil rights activist, who was named United Nations Goodwill Ambassador. Also known by her nickname Mama Africa, she is the person who took African traditional music sounds to the world stage and performed in many countries around the globe, achieving magnum success while. She was strongly against white supremacy which was very much apparent in South Africa during 60s and 70s and spoke in favour of the anti-apartheid movements all through her life, until things got a lot better in the 90s. Finding her musical voice while going through a very rough childhood wasn’t easy but Miriam showed traits of a true artist. She grew out of her disabilities and her ‘no excuses’ attitude placed her among the best musicians to come out of Africa. She bagged a Grammy award for her album ‘An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba’ and is regularly credited with making afro-pop a thing to look out for in America, which basically is a music form that combines African Zulu with modern music sounds.

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Childhood & Early Life
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Career
  • Miriam started her professional musical career making American song covers with the South African band 'The Cuban Brothers', but she got bored of it and at the age of 21, she found her calling in Jazz music. She partnered up with group 'The Manhattan Brothers' and the all women group named 'The Skylarks', which combined traditional African vocals with westernized jazz sounds. It clicked with music lovers on a deeper level and these two bands started getting mentioned as the trendsetters in local and to some extent, in western media.
  • Her first solo success arrived in the year 1956, under Gallotone Records, when Miriam recorded her very first solo album titled ‘Lovely Eyes’. The record got released in the United States and became the first ever South African album to make it to the Billboard 200 chart. During this time, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa was starting to boil up and Miriam came out in full supported. She secretly appeared in a documentary film ‘Come Back, Africa’, the film which later won the top honour at the Venice film festival.
  • The film’s international success opened Miriam’s way for international acclaim and she got signed on to perform in the US and Europe. She landed in London in late 50’s and met Henry Belafonte, whom she regarded as her mentor. She released the song ‘Pata Pata’ which is still known among her most popular songs and put her in the class of best international musicians. She kept switching between London and New York during that time and got married briefly to an Indian man, but upon divorce, she moved to New York City to concentrate on making music.
  • In 1960, she wanted to come back to South Africa due to some personal purposes, but she wasn’t allowed, and then followed a three years exile. Miriam continued making music and wooing Americans with her musical skills and was being hailed as ‘the most exciting young musician’. Her songs ‘The Click Song’ and ‘Malaika’ became popular across the US for introducing Americans to the African sounds, which was a refreshing change.
  • Miriam’s popularity reached the then American president, John F. Kennedy, who claimed that he was a huge fan of the singer and invited her over to perform at his son’s birthday party in 1962. Three years later, she along with her mentor Belafonte, released a duo album titled ‘An Evening with Belafonte and Makeba’, which went on to receive the Grammy award for best folk album of the year in 1966. The duos ‘Train Song’ and ‘Cannon’ also received widespread love from around the country.
  • Her career took another major turn in mid 80s, when she came in touch with Paul Simon, a cult figure in American music scene. She embarked on a glorious ‘Graceland’ tour, which turned her life around and the European countries got officially introduced to the brilliant musician that Miriam was. The tour also gave her opportunity to be vocal about the apartheid movement back in South Africa and raise awareness about the cause.
  • Upon his release from the prison in early 1990s, Nelson Mandela invited Miriam back to South Africa. In June 1988, Miriam performed a concert in Wembley Stadium, London, in celebration of Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday. In 1991, Miriam released ‘Eyes on Tomorrow’ in collaboration with Nina Simone, and embarked on a world tour to promote the album and in the subsequent years, she continued making music and doing concerts, with more fans in west than her native land.
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Personal Life
  • Miriam Makeba got married for the first time in 1949 to James Kubay, a trainee policeman, with whom she gave birth to a child, Bongi Makeba. Kubay used to beat her up frequently so the marriage did not work and they separated after two years of marriage. Her second marriage took place in 1964, with musician Hugh Masekela, which also lasted two whole years.
  • She got married for a third time to Stokely Carmichael. He was a Trinidadian-American civil rights activist. The couple first moved to Guinea then Belgium, but the they divorced after 9 years.
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Final Years
  • On 9th November 2008, Miriam bid her final goodbye to the world. She had been suffering from several illnesses and a heart attack finally turned out to be the cause of her death. She kept making music and spreading awareness about several causes among the African youth till her last breathe.
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Awards

Grammy Awards
1966 Best Folk Recording Winner

See the events in life of Miriam Makeba in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Miriam Makeba Biography
Author
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
Website
- TheFamousPeople.com
URL
https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/miriam-makeba-10909.php
Last Updated
- July 19, 2017
Miriam Makeba

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