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Profile of Miriam Makeba


Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba performing during the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz 2007 in Newtown, held on August 23, 2007 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images


March 4, 1932


Prospect Township (near Johannesburg, South Africa)


November 10, 2008 in Castel Volturno (near Naples, Italy) due to heart attack

Also Known As:

Zensi Miriam Makeba, also known as Mama Afrika, was one of the foremost South African performers during the 20th century.

Type of Songs:

Makeba sang popular songs, but she is especially known for her performance of Xhosa and Zulu songs. Her notable songs include "Pata Pata" (first African song to reach the top 20 on the Billboard Pop Charts), "Qongqothwane" ("Click Song" in English) and "Malaika." In all she made 30 original albums.


She started singing at a young age as one of the members of her school choir. Her love of singing inspired her to become a professional vocalist by 1954. She became well-known in South Africa through her singing and recordings, she also appeared in a 1959 film titled Come Back, Africa. The said film caught the attention of American singers, most notably Harry Belafonte. By 1959, Makeba has moved to the United States where she continued to perform and do recordings. Her and Belafonte's album, An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba, won a Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording in 1965. In 1987, she appeared on Paul Simon's Graceland tour.

Interesting Facts:

Makeba married the trumpeter Hugh Masekela in 1964. However, they divorced two years later but maintained a good working relationship. In 1968, she married American black activist Stokely Carmichael. The couple moved to Guinea and Makeba became an ambassador to the United Nations. They divorced in 1979.

In 1960, Makeba was denied reentry to South Africa. In 1963, after testifying before the U.S. Congress on the issue of apartheid, the South African government revoked her citizenship and placed a ban on her recordings. In 1990, through the encouragement of Nelson Mandela, Makeba returned to South Africa, performing there a year later.

More Information:

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