Singer and activist, Miram Makeba’s music and life is an inspiration to this day. Her life was celebrated by a Google Doodle in honor of her birthday.
Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born 81 years ago today in Prospect Township, outside Johannesburg South Africa, according to biography.com. Makeba was a renowned singer and activist. Popularly known as Mama Africa, Makeba became a household name in the international music scene in the early 1960’s, according to her obituary published in The Independent in 2008.
As a child, Miriam sang in church and started out her singing career in a band with her brother. In 1953 she won national recognition with the release of her first hit “Laku Tshoni Ilanga.” Earning her the nickname “The nightingale,” according to the Independent.
It was not until her appearance in the 1959, award winning film Come Back Africa, that told of life in Apartheid South Africa, that she was launched into the international music scene. Over the course of her career she sang with music legends such as Harry Belafonte. She sang for president John F. Kennedy’s birthday celebration in 1962.
A life-long activist, Makeba used her renown to bring attention to injustice in South Africa and around the world. Her career in the United states suffered because of her marriage to activist and Black Panther member Stokely Carmichael.
In a 1971 interview Makeba talked about how her marriage affected her singing career saying, “We have clippings of it, where people say, ‘We cannot support someone who is married to somebody who wants to destroy the United States.’ But of course I love him. It doesn’t bother me.”
Her vocal denunciation of South African apartheid also resulted in the withdrawal of her passport by the South African government. She lived in exile for 31 years until the end of apartheid saw the election of President Nelson Mandela.
Makeba lived and sang in a divided time, and spoke out in favor of equality and justice. Through her music she was able to bring people together to enjoy the beauty of unique cultures and the shared human experience. “I don’t sing about politics; I sing the truth,” she told her audiences.
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