In the 1960s, she was the first artist from Africa to popularize African music around the world. She is best known for the song “Pata Pata“, first recorded in 1957 and released in the U.S. in 1967. She recorded and toured with many popular artists, such as Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, and her former husband Hugh Masekela.
Makeba campaigned against the South African system of apartheid. The South African government responded by revoking her passport in 1960 and her citizenship and right of return in 1963. As the apartheid system crumbled she returned home for the first time in 1990.
Makeba died of a heart attack on 9 November 2008 after performing in a concert in Italy organised to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation local to the region of Campania.
Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg on 4 March 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma (traditional healer-herbalist). Her father, who died when she was six years old, was a Xhosa. When she was eighteen days old, her mother was arrested for selling umqombothi, an African homemade beer brewed from malt and cornmeal. Her mother was sentenced to a six-month prison term, so Miriam spent her first six months of life in jail. As a child, she sang in the choir of the Kilmerton Training Institute in Pretoria, a primary school that she attended for eight years.
EXILE: Makeba then travelled to London where she met Harry Belafonte, who assisted her in gaining entry to the United States and achieving fame there. When she tried to return to South Africa in 1960 for her mother’s funeral, she discovered that her South African passport had been cancelled. She signed with RCA Victor and released Miriam Makeba, her first U.S. studio album, in 1960. In 1962, Makeba and Belafonte sang at John F. Kennedy’s birthday party at Madison Square Garden, but Makeba did not go to the aftershow party because she was ill. President Kennedy insisted on meeting her, so Belafonte sent a car to pick her up and she met the President of the United States. In 1963, Makeba released her second studio album for RCA, The World of Miriam Makeba. An early example of world music, the album peaked at number eighty-six on the Billboard 200. Later that year, after testifying against apartheid before the United Nations, her South African citizenship and her right to return to the country were revoked. She was a woman without a country, but the world came to her aid, and Guinea, Belgium and Ghana issued her international passports, and she became, in effect, a citizen of the world. In her life, she held nine passports, and was granted honorary citizenship in ten countries.