Legendary South African musical treasure and Grammy Award winner Miriam Makeba has died. One of Africa’s best known voices and a champion of the fight against apartheid, Makeba died of a heart attack after a performance in Italy. She was 76.
Makeba fell ill after a concert in the southern Italian town of Baia Verde late on Sunday, November 9. She died after being rushed to a clinic in the town of Castel Volturno.
Known as “Mama Africa” and the “Empress of African Song,” Makeba was the first black South African musician to gain international fame, winning renown in the United States in the 1950s with her sweeping vocals.
Born in 1932 in Johannesburg, Miriam Makeba first came to the public’s attention as a featured vocalist with the Manhattan Brothers. She soon left to record with her all-woman group the Skylarks while touring Southern Africa with Alf Herberts’ African Jazz and Variety. In 1963, after testifying about apartheid before the United Nations, the South African government revoked her citizenship. She remained in the U.S. and married Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael, but they eventually fled to Guinea on the West African Coast. Makeba returned to world prominence in 1987 when she performed with Paul Simon on the Graceland tour. In 1990, she finally returned to her homeland as a free South African.
Makeba’s final U.S. studio recording was Reflections. Released on Heads Up International in June 2004, this brilliant retrospective album featured new arrangements that captured the singer’s remarkable vocal power and artistry. Reflections is part of the Heads Up Africa series – a critically acclaimed collection that spotlights some of Southern Africa’s finest vocalists and instrumentalists.
“Mama Africa’s artistry has played such an important role in promoting the arts and culture of South Africa,” say Dave Love. President of Heads Up International. “My times with her I will cherish forever. She will be missed dearly.”