Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born on 4 March, 1932 in Johannesburg to Swazi and Xhosa parents, also known as Mama Africa, was a South African singer, actor, United Nations goodwill ambassador, and civil rights activist. Makeba was forced to find employment as a child after the death of her father. She had a brief and allegedly abusive first marriage at the age of 17, gave birth to her only child in 1950, and survived breast cancer. Her vocal talent had been recognized when she was a child, and she began singing professionally in the 1950s, with the Cuban Brothers, the Manhattan Brothers, and an all-woman group, the Skylarks, performing a mixture of jazz, traditional African melodies, and Western popular music.
Associated with musical genres including Afropop, jazz, and world music, she was an advocate against apartheid and white-minority government in South Africa.
In 1959, Zenzile had a brief role in the anti-apartheid film Come Back, Africa, which brought her international attention, and led to her performing in Venice, London, and New York City. In London, she met the American singer Harry Belafonte, who became a mentor and colleague. She moved to New York City, where she became immediately popular, and recorded her first solo album in 1960. Her attempt to return to South Africa that year for her mother’s funeral was prevented by the country’s government.
Makeba’s career flourished in the United States, and she released several albums and songs, her most popular being “Pata Pata” (1967). Along with Belafonte she received a Grammy Award for her 1966 album An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba. She testified against the South African government at the United Nations and became involved in the African-American civil rights movement. She married Stokely Carmichael, a leader of the Black Panther Party, in 1968.
Makeba’s 1965 collaboration with Harry Belafonte won a Grammy Award, making her the first African recording artist to win this award. She shared the 2001 Polar Music Prize with Sofia Gubaidulina. They received their prize from Carl XVI Gustaf, the King of Sweden, during a nationally televised ceremony at Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, on 27 May 2002 these but just to mention but a few of several awards.
She died on 9 November 2008.