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Zenzile Miriam Makeba, popularly known as Miriam Makeba and referred to as Mama Africa, is a South African singer, songwriter, civil rights activist, and United Nations goodwill ambassador.
See the fact file below for more information on the Miriam Makeba or alternatively, you can download our 25-page Miriam Makeba worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
Early Life and Education
- Miriam Makeba was born on March 4, 1932 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
- She was born to Caswell Makeba, a teacher, and Christina Makeba, a traditional healer.
- When Miriam was six years old, her father died.
- Her first name “Zenzile” was allegedly derived from the Xhosa word “uzenzile” meaning “you brought this on yourself”, which was uttered repeatedly by Miriam’s grandmother when her mother was giving birth.
- When Miriam was just an eighteen-day-old baby, her mother got arrested for selling homemade beer.
- Miriam spent her first six months as a baby in jail since her family could not afford to bail her mother out.
- At age 17, she was married and suffered an abusive marriage for two years until it ended.
- She gave birth to her only child, a daughter, Bongi, in 1950.
Career and Contributions
- Her first singing stint was for her cousin’s band called The Cuban Brothers.
- It was not until 1954 when she joined a jazz band called the Manhattan Brothers as a vocalist and recorded her debut single “Laku Tshona Llange” that her reputation in the musical world was established.
- She left the band in 1958 to form the all-female musical group The Skylarks where she sang a mix of jazz and traditional South African music.
- In 1959, she accepted the role of the female lead in the musical King Kong, where she also reunited with band members of the Manhattan Brothers.
- Also in 1959, Miriam joined African Jazz and Variety, and toured South Africa for 18 months.
- In that same year, she made an appearance in “Come Back, Africa” which is a film about South Africans in the apartheid era.
- The musical style of the groups she joined was called mbuba.
- Mbuba is a vocal style that blended jazz, ragtime, Anglican church melodies, and indigenous style of rhythms.
- She received invitations to perform in Europe and the United States.
- She performed at the Village Vanguard in New York for four weeks.
- Makeba met American singer Harry Belafonte in London and became mentored by him.
- Makeba made a guest appearance at Harry Belafonte’s concert in Carnegie Hall, which began her collaborations with the American singer: they released an album entitled Belafonte & Miriam Makeba in 1972; and Makeba performed with him at the Harry Belafonte Tribute at Madison Square Garden in 1997.
- She moved to the United States and lived in New York City.
- Her musical reputation was built on her jazz performances.
- Her South African citizenship was revoked in 1960 because her popularity as a musician drew attention to the anti-apartheid movement.
- She was not able to attend her mother’s funeral in South Africa because of her exile.
- Her music was banned in South Africa.
- Her daughter Bongi joined her shortly afterwards in the US.
- In 1964, she gave her testimony against the apartheid at the United Nations General Assembly.
- She recorded her first solo album ‘Miriam Makeba’ with music label RCA Victor in 1960.
- Makeba was described to have an incredible vocal range and powerful stage presence.
- She became more and more popular in the United States at this time.
- In 1964, she released her second album ‘The World of Miriam Makeba’ with the same label.
- Miriam was popular among the whites because of her exoticness and among the blacks because of her representation.
- She sang in English and African languages such as Xhosa and Zulu.
- She never sang in Afrikaans which was the language of the apartheid government.
- She earned the moniker “Mama Africa” because she was a symbol not just of African music but African culture in the US.
- Her most popular song was “Pata Pata”, which was released in 1967.
- She was married to Hugh Masekela from 1963 to 1968.
- Throughout her music career in the 1960s, she also became involved in the civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid movement.
- In March 1968, she married Stokely Carmichael, a black activist who was a key figure in the Black Panther Party, and her popularity in the US declined drastically.
- They moved to Guinea and Makeba did not return to the US until 1987.
- Makeba performed mostly in African countries.
- Makeba divorced Carmichael in 1978.
- She had both breast and cervical cancer, and she survived them.
- Her autobiography entitled ‘Miriam: My Story’ was published in 1988.
- Makeba returned to South Africa in 1990 after Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
- She performed her first South African concert in April 1991.
- She formed her charity organization Zenzile Miriam Makeba Foundation in 1995.
- She released a studio album entitled ‘Homeland’ in 2000.
- She retired from the music industry in 2005 but still continued to make appearances.
- Her collaboration with Belafonte in 1965 earned her a Grammy award which was the first for an African singer.
- In 1968, Makeba received the Dag Hammarskjold Peace Prize.
- In 2001, she was awarded the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold by the United Nations Association of Germany.
Death and Legacy
- In 2008, Makeba died of a heart attack during a concert in Italy.
- Throughout her career, Makeba was able to produce 30 original albums.
- Upon her death, Nelson Mandela described her as “South Africa’s first lady of song.”
- In honor of Makeba, Mama Africa the musical was produced in South Africa and was performed in different cities such as Cape Town, St. Louis, and New York.
- In 2011, a documentary film about Makeba’s life entitled Mama Africa was directed by Mika Kaurismäki.
Miriam Makeba Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Miriam Makeba across 25 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Miriam Makeba worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Zenzile Miriam Makeba, popularly known as Miriam Makeba and referred to as Mama Africa, who is a South African singer, songwriter, civil rights activist, and United Nations goodwill ambassador.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Miriam Makeba Facts
- Family Flashbacks
- Mama Africa
- Career Timeline
- More About Miriam
- Citizen of the World
- Five Words
- Discover Her Discography
- Mbuba Music
- Apartheid Archives
- A Song From The Heart
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Link will appear as Miriam Makeba Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, January 9, 2019
Use With Any Curriculum
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