Today’s Google Doodle honors South African performer Miriam Makeba (1932-2008) on what would have been her 81st birthday, March 4.
One of the most prominent African singers of the 20th century, “Mama Africa” helped popularize a special blend of jazz and traditional folk music in the 1950s that became known as African Jazz. A staunch civil rights advocate, she testified against apartheid at the United Nations in 1963; soon after, the South African government took away her citizenship. Nelson Mandela facilitated her return to the country in 1990.
Makeba won a Best Folk Album Grammy Award in 1965 for her collaboration with Harry Belafonte, An Evening with Harry Belafonte. She performed for President John F. Kennedy on the same night that Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday” to the commander-in-chief, and in the late 1980s, she toured with Paul Simon.
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In 1964, Makeba married Hugh Masekela, a South African trumpeter who also spoke out against apartheid. They divorced two years later, and in 1968, she re-married to U.S. civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Makeba’s most popular song is probably “Pata Pata,” named for a South African folk dance:
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