The Passing of a Legend

Miriam Makeba (March 4, 1932-November 9, 2008), also known as “Mama Africa”, died last night as she finished her set in Castel Volturno, Italy, at a concert organized in support of writer Roberto Saviano, who has been taking a stand against the Camorra, a Mafia related organization. She was 76.

South African-born Miriam Makeba’s career began in the 1950s when she joined the Manhattan Brothers before forming her own group. Her break, however, came in 1959 when she starred in an anti-apartheid documentary called “Come Back, Africa”. It is no surprise to find that, when she left her home country, the South African government canceled her passport, a fact she only discovered when she attempted to re-enter the country in 1960 for her mother’s funeral. In 1963, the South African government struck again by revoking her South African citizenship, in retribution for her testimony before the United Nations against the South African government. By then, however, she had garnered such an international reputation that 10 countries granted her honorary citizenship, allowing her to obtain passports from many nations.

Makeba’s American success was due in large part to the help and influence of Harry Belafonte, who also launched Nana Mousskouri in America.

On a personal note, we had albums of all three artists in our house. I grew up hearing their voices and enjoying their music. Later, as I reached the age to choose my own music, I discovered Paul Simon, whose “Graceland” tour Makeba joined in 1987. She also played in one of my favorite anti-apartheid movies, “Sarafina“, as the mother of the title character.

Kenya’s “Daily Nation” has an article detailing much more of her life.

I will miss her voice.

I leave you with a selection of her best-known songs. Enjoy!

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