Happy Birthday Blog: Miriam Makeba

Happy Birthday Blog: Miriam Makeba

Miriam Zenzile Makeba

Born: March 4, 1932

Prospect Township, Johannesburg, Union of South Africa

Known for: Singer and Civil Right Activist that spoke against Apartheid

Miriam Makeba rose to fame in the 1960s when she brought a Pan-Africanist musical movement to the United States. Though she had been performing across Africa and Europe, when she toured in the US, she gained national renowned for her unique singing style. She is often credited with introducing many US audiences to forms of African music and became known as ‘Mama Africa.’

Born into the Apartheid regime in South Africa, Makeba spoke out against racism and human rights violations throughout her career. Following her appearance  in the 1959 film ‘Come back, Africa’ the South African government revoked her passport and banned her from returning home. She settled in the US following a national tour, and worked closely with Harry Belafonte with whom she won a Grammy.

Living in the US, she began to tell the story of South Africa and use the messages of her music to inform the American public about the discrimination and racism ongoing in her home country. She sang in her native language of Xhosa and refused to be categorized into a genre of music. Makeba exclaimed “That is why I always say, please, don’t put me, Miriam Makeba, in a cage. I do not want to be labeled. When people ask me, what do you sing? I say, I just sing. I sing music.”

In the late 1960s, she married Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) and they eventually fled the US and sought exile in Guinea in West Africa. Though she was a committed pan-Africanist who often spoke of Africa as a continent, she always wanted to return to South Africa. When the Apartheid regime finally toppled, Makeba returned to South Africa in 1991. Later in life she became a UN Goodwill Ambassador and opened a girls school in South Africa.

For all her work to end Apartheid and her contributions to music around the world, we wish Miriam a happy birthday!

You can learn more about Miriam and hear an interview with her here.

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