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South African Singer Makeba Dies

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South African Singer Makeba Dies

South African Singer Makeba Dies

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Our final story this hour is a remembrance of one of Africa's first international superstars. Miriam Makeba fought apartheid in South Africa through music. Last night, during a performance in Italy, she suffered a heart attack and collapsed. She died early this morning. Makeba was 76 years old. NPR's Neda Ulaby has her story.

NEDA ULABY: Miriam Makeba's life had more than its share of tribulation. She was exiled for decades from apartheid-era South Africa and survived an abusive first husband, the death of a daughter, four divorces and cancer. But her voice always rang with power.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. MIRIAM MAKEBA (South African Singer): It is a song that says, why me?

(Soundbite of song)

ULABY: Makeba talked about her albums in Goma in 1988 on WHYY's Fresh Air.

Ms. MAKEBA: In a wider sense, I see it as, why black people? Because you go in to any part of the world, black people are always at the bottom of the ladder.

ULABY: Miriam Makeba came of age at a tumultuous political moment, when many African countries verged on independence. That's when she met Harry Belafonte. He was immediately struck by her voice.

Mr. HARRY BELAFONTE (Musician): Not only did it have power and beauty as an instrument, what makes great voices indelible is what people sing about.

ULABY: Makeba sang about Africa's culture and struggles. And Belafonte decided that was something Americans needed to hear. He helped arrange a U.S. tour and got the shy, 27-year-old on the Steve Allen Show.

(Soundbite of Steve Allen Show)

Ms. MAKEBA: I speak (unintelligible). It's very close to Zulu, but it has more clicks than Zulu.

Mr. STEVE ALLEN: More clicks?

Ms. MAKEBA: Yes, like (unintelligible).

ULABY: Makeba's hits like "The Click Song" taught Americans African sounds.

(Soundbite of "The Click Song")

ULABY: Makeba's international popularity extended to the United Nations, where she addressed a special commission on apartheid in 1963. She appealed for a boycott of her country.

Ms. MAKEBA: I ask you and all the leaders of the world, would you act differently, would you keep silent and do nothing if you were in our place?

ULABY: Makeba's albums were banned in South Africa. Her success in the rest of the world and the pressures of touring led to a divorce from trumpeter Hugh Masakela. She went on to marry Black Panther Stokely Carmichael and moved to Guinea. Two decades later, Makeba's voice stirred a new generation with Paul Simon's Graceland tour.

(Soundbite of song "Soweto Blues")

Ms. MAKEBA: (Singing) Refusing to comply they sent an answer. That's when the policemen came to the rescue.

ULABY: Miriam Makeba returned to South Africa after the end of apartheid. Nelson Mandela welcomed her as a hero. Makeba announced her official retirement a few years ago. But she kept traveling and singing, she said, because people kept asking her to come and say goodbye. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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