June 18

Miriam Makeba’s biography would make a great movie.

The South African singer and civil rights activist spent her first 6 months of life in jail (her mother was arrested and jailed, when Makeba was just days old, for selling homebrew). Already a singing star as a teen, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a baby and was dumped by her husband by 18.

The shit really hit the fan after she appeared in an anti-apartheid documentary in 1959. The exposure she received catapulted her to the international stage, but also got the ball rolling toward eventual exile from her home.

Traveling and performing with Harry Belafonte opened some more doors… she recorded some successful records for RCA, performed at JFK’s birthday bash (yup, the one where Marilyn Monroe famously wiggled through Happy Birthday), testified against apartheid before the United Nations and had her South African citizenship and her right to return to the country revoked!

Makeba won a Grammy (with Belafonte) in 1966, became a fashion trendsetter for her natural look and dress and married a Black Panther. The Black Panther thing cost her her recording contract and got her kicked out of the U.S.

She continued to tour and record (outside the U.S. and South Africa) and was appointed Guinea’s official delegate to the United Nations, where she continued to speak out against apartheid. She was the most engaging performer featured in the Rumble in the Jungle concert video Soul Power, was tapped by Paul Simon to tour in support of his Graceland album and performed at the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute (pre his release) which further spurred the South African government to finally lift its ban on anti-apartheid organizations.

If there are any movie executives reading this, I can be reached via my WordPress account if you need a consultant for your overdue bio-pic on Ms. Makeba. While I’m waiting for your call, I’ll be listening to this minty copy of The Many Voices Of Miriam Makeba I found last week.

I found this interesting study of Makeba available on the olde intertubes if you would like a more in depth perspective: http://www.academia.edu/2059859/The_Voice_of_Which_Africa_Miriam_Makeba_in_America

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