Miriam Makeba (b. March 4, 1932) is a Grammy Award-winning South African singer, also known as Mama Afrika.
Miriam Zenzi Makeba was born in Johannesburg in 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma and her father, who died when she was six, was a Xhosa. As a child, she sang at the Kilmerton Training Institute in Pretoria, which she attended for eight years.
Makeba's full name is Zenzile Makeba Qgwashu Nguvama Yiketheli Nxgowa Bantana Balomzi Xa Ufun Ubajabulisa Ubaphekeli Mbiza Yotshwala Sithi Xa Saku Qgiba Ukutja Sithathe Izitsha Sizi Khabe Singama Lawu Singama Qgwashu Singama Nqamla Nqgithi. In keeping with tradition, her full name contains the first names of her male ancestors followed by a one- or two-word description of their character.
Makeba first toured with an amateur group. Her professional career began in the 1950s with the Manhattan Brothers, before she formed her own group, The Skylarks, singing a blend of jazz and traditional melodies of South Africa.
In 1959, she performed in the musical King Kong alongside Hugh Masekela, her future husband. Though she was a successful recording artist, she was only receiving a few dollars for each recording session and no provisional royalties, and was keen to go to the US. Her break came when she starred in the anti-Apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa in 1959. When the Italian government invited her to the premier of the film at the Venice Film Festival, she decided not to return home. Her South African passport was revoked shortly afterwards.
Makeba then travelled to London where she met Harry Belafonte, who assisted her in gaining entry to and fame in the United States. She released many of her most famous hits there including Pata Pata, The Click Song (Qongqothwane in Xhosa), and Malaika. In 1966, Makeba received the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording together with Harry Belafonte for An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba. The album dealt with the political plight of black South Africans under Apartheid.
In 1963, after an impassioned testimony before the United Nations Committee Against Apartheid, Makeba's records were banned in South Africa and her South African citizenship and her right to return to the country were revoked.
Miriam Makeba and Dizzy Gillespie in concert (1991).
Her marriage to Trinidadian civil rights activist and Black Panthers leader Stokely Carmichael in 1968 caused controversy in the United States, and her record deals and tours were cancelled. As a result of this, the couple moved to Guinea, where they became close with President Ahmed Sékou Touré and his wife. Makeba separated from Carmichael in 1973, and continued to perform primarily in Africa, South America and Europe. She was one of the African and Afro-American entertainers at the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman held in Zaïre. Makeba also served as a Guinean delegate to the United Nations, for which she won the Dag Hammarskjöld Peace Prize in 1986.
After the death of her only daughter Bongi Makeba in 1985, she moved to Brussels. In 1987, she appeared in Paul Simon's Graceland tour. Shortly thereafter she published her autobiography Makeba: My Story (ISBN 0-453-00561-6).
Nelson Mandela persuaded her to return to South Africa in 1990. In the fall of 1991, she made a guest appearance in an episode of The Cosby Show, entitled "Olivia Comes Out Of The Closet". In 1992 she starred in the film Sarafina!, about the 1976 Soweto youth uprisings, as the title character's mother, "Angelina." She also took part in the 2002 documentary Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony where she and others recalled the days of Apartheid.
In January 2000, her album, Homeland, produced by Cedric Samson and Michael Levinsohn was nominated for a Grammy Award in the "Best World Music" category. In 2001 she was awarded the Gold Otto Hahn Peace Medal by the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin, "for outstanding services to peace and international understanding". In 2002, she shared the Polar Music Prize with Sofia Gubaidulina. In 2004, Makeba was voted 38th in the Top 100 Great South Africans. Makeba started a worldwide farewell tour in 2005, holding concerts in all of those countries that she had visited during her working life. She is still touring as of May 2008.