Zensi Miriam Makeba was born on March 4, 1932, in Prospect Township, near Johannesburg, South Africa. As a child, she sang in her school choir. By the 1950s, she was working as a full-time singer, performing at local venues. By the end of the ’50s, she was a well-known singer throughout South Africa.
In 1959, Makeba recorded a song for the documentary ‘Come Back, Africa.’ Her singing caught the attention of Harry Belafonte. Belafonte took great interest in Makeba’s career. With Belafonte’s assistance, Makeba moved to the U.S. and was later denied entrance back into South Africa in the 1960s. She lived in exile for 30 years.
In 1962, Makeba was invited to perform at a birthday celebration for President John F. Kennedy. Three years later in 1965, she and Belafonte released ‘An Evening with Belafonte and Makeba.’ Both Makeba and Belafonte received a Grammy Award for best folk recording in 1966.
Makeba re-released her song ‘Pata Pata’ in the U.S. in 1967. This song went on to become her most popular single. She had other songs, like ‘The Click Song’ and ‘Malaika’ which introduced the West to Xhosa, Zulu, and Swahili songs, as well as South African culture in general.
By 1987, Makeba was invited to join Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ tour. Being an activist who openly criticized the oppression of apartheid, Makeba was the ideal singer for Simon’s tour which spoke out against apartheid. The tour was an extremely successful endeavor.
After living in exile for three decades, Makeba was encouraged to return to South Africa by Nelson Mandela who had been released from prison in 1990. Miriam Makeba developed cancer and died of a heart attack on November 9, 2008, at the age of 76. She died in Castel Volturno, Italy.
**The views and actions of the DDH historical figures that are featured may not reflect the views and beliefs of Ramiro The Writer or We Buy Black. Thank you.**
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